Consisting of a multitude of psychedelic smiling flowers, LV Cosmic Blossom: Wisdom represents a perfect expression of Takashi Murakami's iconic artistic enterprise. Flawlessly executed in candy-coloured luminous tones and reflective platinum leaf, the surface of the present work delivers a truly superlative feat of the artist's 'Superflat' corpus. Smiling flowers are uniquely emblematic within Murakami's globalised artistic mission and mature visual lexicon. Here they take the shape of the Louis Vuitton logo flowers and are combined with the name of the international recognized brand. Murakami started collaborating with the fashion house when he was called upon by Marc Jacobs to redesign Louis Vuitton’s Spring/Summer 2003 accessories collection. Picking apart the trademark LV all-over logo print, he reassembled it as a kawaii dream. Using the vivid color palette and playful style that he’s known and loved for, Murakami’s Vuitton designs laid the foundations for an epidemic of highly-sought after ‘It’ bags, including the Monogram Multicolore which shows the same pattern as LV Cosmic Blossom: Wisdom.
In orchestrating a multivalent commercialised artistic venture with Louis Vuitton and celebrities such as Kanye West, Murakami uses the mainstream corporate brand as a megaphone to establish and legitimate his animé inspired practice. As outlined by Alison Gingeras; "in Murakami's hands, the market becomes a medium for identity politics" (Alison Gingeras, 'Lost in Translation: The Politics of Identity in the Work of Takashi Murakami' in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Tate Modern, Pop Life: Art in a Material World, 2009, p. 80). Moreover, by being heir to Andy Warhol's brand of business-art, Murakami's practise is firmly footed within the contemporary canon of Western art.
In his work, Murakami appropriates the production conditions of Western Modernism. Updated for the Twenty First Century and made culturally specific, the impeccably rendered flowers are here invested with the synthetic flawlessness of the television screen and computer graphics. In forging an aesthetic grounded in the special effects of animé and manga, Murakami presents a vision of the culturally dislocated Japanese generation nurtured by the political custody of the US after World War II. Exposed to the American capitalist model, the resulting economic prosperity has been recently considered to have cultured a 'limited freedom' of postwar Japanese democracy. In turn this fostered a restricted and impoverished culture lacking in any self-reflective tradition or spiritual depth – the ultimate embodiment of which is the indigenous comic book sub-culture of otaku. Emblematically present within the excessive almost fetishistic detail and two-dimensional childlike appeal of Murakami's open-mouthed flowers is the very quintessence of the artist's response to such cultural conditions, conceptually unified under the umbrella term 'Superflat'.
According to the artist: "Super flatness is an original concept of the Japanese, who have been completely Westernised" (the artist quoted in: Takashi Murakami. Superflat Trilogy, Tokyo 2000, p. 155). Reflective of the flattened social structure and erasure of political identity in the nuclear fall-out of the atomic bomb, Murakami's otaku inspired art takes on the negative infantile cultural conditions as the vehicle to develop and globally proliferate a new and manifestly Japanese art. However, within this stream of cultural referents that constitute the artist's search for a cultural voice, Murakami masterfully bridges the gulf between the new representational aesthetics and the greater pre-modern classical tradition indigenous to Japan. In the words of the artist: "My aim is to bring about a creative process which will build a bridge between the past and the future" (the artist cited in: Jill Gasparina, 'Murakami's Conquest of Ubiquity' in: Exhibition Catalogue, Versailles, Château de Versailles, Murakami Versailles, 2011, p. 161).
Rooted within the Japanese art form of Byōbu, the traditional craft of highly lacquered decorative screen painting, the high sheen of Murakami's immaculate floral canvas classically dates back to the Momoyama and Edo periods from the late-Sixteenth to the mid-Nineteenth Centuries. Echoing the repetition of Ogata's painted iris motif composed against a ground of gold leaf across several highly lacquered panels, Murakami's integration of expertly applied platinum leaf substantiates the fundamentally classical arts and crafts aspect of his 'Superflat' manifesto. Furthermore, it is here that the notion of the 'screen' takes on a richly multivalent cultural significance. Within this excess of ostensible cultural contradictions shown within the painted perfection of LV Cosmic Blossom: Wisdom, Murakami ingeniously scrambles, disintegrates and compresses conventional visual codes into the singular stratum of highly polished, flawless, screen-like computer graphic surface of his hand-crafted masterpiece.
According to Murakami, the employment of flowers as an endlessly repeated motif stems from a period of intense daily study of the flower itself: "I spent nine years working in a preparatory school, where I taught the students to draw flowers... At the beginning, to be frank, I didn't like flowers, but as I continued teaching in the school, my feelings changed: their smell, their shape – it all made me feel almost physically sick, and at the same time I found them very 'cute'. Each one seemed to have its own feelings, its own personality. My dominant feeling was one of unease, but I liked that sensation. And these days, now that I draw flowers rather frequently, that sensation has come back very vividly. I find them just as pretty, just as disturbing... So I thought that if the opportunity arose, I would very much like to make a work in which I would represent them as if in a 'crowd scene'... I really wanted to convey this impression of unease, of the threatening aspect of an approaching crowd" (the artist cited in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Serpentine Gallery, Takashi Murakami, 2002, pp. 84-85). Endlessly and densely repeated within the flat-bed plane of Murakami's canvas, the proliferation of childishly cute or kawaii flowers confers a screen-like barrier that denies entrance to the illusionary pictorial realm associated with the monolithic tradition of painting on canvas.
The fanatical repetition and attention to detail inherent to Murakami's smiling flowers is symptomatic of a tautological necessity to secure significatory meaning. Infused with an abundance of referents, Murakami's trademark smiling flowers lie at the heart of an agenda of Japanese identity politics. Herein lies the cultural strategy of Murakami's artistic project of postcolonial re-territorialisation: by forging a dialectic between mass and sub culture, cultural alterity and westernised dominance, orient and occident, Murakami single-handedly opens up a new critical perspective and entirely new category for Japanese art.
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