Lot 6
  • 6

Takashi Murakami

600,000 - 800,000 GBP
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  • Takashi Murakami
  • Pink Skull and Flower Painting
  • signed and dated 2012 on the overlap; variously inscribed on the stretcher bar
  • Acrylic on canvas
  • 198 by 153cm.
  • 78 by 60 1/8 in.
  • Executed in 2011.


Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate, although the overall tonalities are warmer and more vibrant in the original, and the illustration fails to convey the sparkly passages of glitter. Condition: This work is in very good condition. No restoration is apparent under ultraviolet light.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

Smiling flowers represent the very hallmark and signature motif of Takashi Murakami’s extraordinary and ambitious artistic enterprise. The glorious saturation of beaming flower-faces here comprise a kaleidoscopic torrent. In line with the exacting standards enforced by the artist’s Factory-like studio setup, each individual flower is individually painted by hand with faultless and immaculate precision to deliver computer screen-like perfection. Here the schema is dominated by a unifying vibrant pink and red, punctuated with spectral hues and laced with exposures and over-layers of shimmering glitter. Entrenched in the ancient Eastern practice of decorative flower painting on traditional lacquered panels, Murakami engenders a new expression for Japanese high-art that encompasses the mythology, craft and skill of Japan’s past with the pervasive and highly commercial visual culture that has developed in Japan since the Second World War. Indeed, typical of Murakami’s practice, insidiously camouflaged within this profusion of kitsch smiling flower faces, deathly skulls comingle with this hysterical and saccharine display. Jubilant, euphoric yet inherently unsettling, the present work is gloriously emblematic of the historically multilayered yet fetishistically flat production of Takashi Murakami.

Internationally celebrated and globally renown, Murakami is widely acclaimed for orchestrating an artistic empire descended from the Warholian art-business model. In a complex negotiation between the mass-market, the contemporary art market, Japanese tradition and popular culture, Murakami's work is acutely yet subtly politically oriented. Cloaked beneath Murakami's signature barrage of beaming faces, a studied cultural project is at work. In fusing pre-modern Japanese tradition with the pervasive culture of manga and sub-culture of otaku, Murakami confronts Japan’s cultural identity following the aftermath of the Second World War. His practice invokes a pluralistic artistic fusion disquietingly underscored by the profound impairment of Japanese culture during the second half of the Twentieth Century. The literal and metaphoric ‘flattening’ of Japanese culture - heralded by the Atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 and stymied by the dominance of American and Western surveillance and influence thereafter - is confronted by Murakami with an oeuvre idiosyncratically united by the term, Superflat. As the artist has emphatically laid down in the Superflat manifesto: “Super flatness is an original concept of the Japanese, who have been completely Westernised" (the artist cited in: Takashi Murakami. Superflat Trilogy, Tokyo 2000, p. 155). Murakami’s impeccably rendered flowers are here invested with the synthetic flawlessness of the television screen and computer graphics. Having forged an aesthetic grounded in the special effects of animé and manga, a visual sub-culture that reactively emerged following the proliferation of Americana in Japan, Murakami presents a fine-art lexicon for the culturally dislocated Japanese generation nurtured by the US political custody after World War II. As hinted at by the Pop infused interlace of flowers and skulls, Murakami incorporates the child-like innocence of Japanese pop-culture with the violent erasure of cultural and political identity in the nuclear fall-out of the atomic bomb. The inane hystericism of Murakami’s flowers and skulls incorporates the unsettling and symptomatic infantilisation of Japanese culture as the vehicle to develop and globally proliferate a new and manifestly Japanese art.

Rooted within the Japanese art of Byōbu, the traditional craft of highly lacquered decorative screen painting the high sheen of Murakami's immaculate floral canvases classically date back to the Momoyama and Edo periods during the late-Sixteenth to the mid-Nineteenth Centuries. The present work represents a self-conscious reinvigoration of Japan’s pre-modern artistic legacy. In his incorporation of shimmering glitter as a decorative ground for the profusion of individually hand-painted flowers, Murakami invokes the highly decorative and expertly wielded traditional processes fundamental to Japan’s rich history of classical art. Moreover, the decorative use of skulls is itself rooted in Japanese art history. The profusion of skulls in the present work echoes such historical examples as Utagawa Hiroshige’s Edo period woodcut, Taira no Kiyomori Haunted by Spectres. In this Nineteenth Century mythological work, the Twelfth Century warrior Tairo no Kiyomori is portrayed within a haunted landscape; the skulls that replace the trees and hills are ghostly apparitions of Kiyomori's enemies and victims. Murakami replaces flowers with skulls to the same effect: the ghosts of Japan’s past and victims of historical trauma are here acknowledged through an encompassing, masterfully orchestrated and nuanced cultural vocabulary. Within the surfeit of ostensible cultural misnomers redolent within the sheer painted perfection of the present work, Murakami ingeniously scrambles and compresses a trans-historical field of visual codes into the singular cogent stratum of highly polished, screen-like graphic surface of his handcrafted masterpieces.

Infused with an abundance of referents, the artist's trademark smiling flowers stand 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.