- Takashi Murakami
- Korin: Dark Matter
- signed and dated 2015 on the overlap
- acrylic, gold leaf and platinum leaf on canvas
- 63 x 59 1/2 in. 160 x 151.1 cm.
“The importance of his work is precisely owing to the visibility and scale of his ambition, as well as his ability to see possibility in obscure and despised corners of cultural production. His critical acuity, formed in response to the negativity of the postwar Japanese condition, takes him beyond its limits.” (Midori Matsui, “Murakami Matrix: Takashi Murakami’s Instrumentalization of Japanese Postmodern Culture,” in Exh. Cat., Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, © Murakami, 2007, p.108)
Irrefutably one of the most pervasive and internationally acclaimed contemporary artists of our time, Takashi Murakami is widely celebrated for orchestrating an artistic empire that operates at the complex intersection between the mass-market, popular culture, the contemporary art market, and Japanese artistic traditions. With an incisive and discerning conceptual vision, Murakami’s work stages an intricate negotiation between the past and present, orient and occident, high culture and mass consumerism whilst remaining acutely yet subtly politically oriented. Korin: Dark Matter, executed in 2014, is paradigmatic of this tenuous balance of influences and inspirations, encapsulating the full spectrum of his definitive artistic project across its visually dense and chromatically vibrant surface. Equally rooted in the ancient Eastern practice of decorative flower painting on traditional lacquered panels and the formidable ukiyo-e style landscape paintings of Edo Period masters Utagawa Hiroshige and Katsushika Hokusai, Korin: Dark Matter broadcasts Murakami’s novel expression of 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.
Smiling flowers represent the very hallmark and signature motif of Murakami’s extraordinary and ambitious artistic enterprise. In the artist’s own words, the employment of flowers as an endlessly repeated motif stemmed 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 Exh., Cat., London, Serpentine Gallery, Takashi Murakami, 2002, pp. 84-85) In line with the exacting standards enforced by the artist’s Factory-like studio setup, each individual flower in Korin: Dark Matter, as well as the multicolored stems and leaves that ground them and the abstracted landscape that serves as their atmospheric backdrop, is painted by hand with faultless and immaculate precision to deliver computer screen-like perfection. Drawn from Japan’s ubiquitous culture of manga and sub-culture of otaku, Murakami’s mechanical exactitude does not simply represent an aesthetic choice or preference; instead, it is the physical manifestation of the artist’s pointed confrontation of the literal and metaphoric ‘flattening’ of Japanese culture in the second half of the Twentieth Century – heralded by the Atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 and perpetuated by the dominance of Western surveillance and influence thereafter. Idiosyncratically united under the term Superflat, Murakami’s oeuvre invokes a pluralistic artistic fusion that bears the disquieting insinuation of the profound impairment of Japanese culture. As the artist has decisively declared in his Superflat manifesto: “Super flatness is an original concept of the Japanese, who have been completely Westernized." (the artist cited in Takashi Murakami, Superflat Trilogy, Tokyo 2000, p. 155)
At once jubilant, euphoric, and inherently unsettling, Korin: Dark Matter is gloriously emblematic of the historically multilayered yet fetishistically flat production of Takashi Murakami. Infused with an abundance of referents, the artist's trademark smiling flowers, here accompanied by a pointed evocation of the grand tradition of Japanese landscape paintings culled from an historical moment before the vast Westernization of Japanese culture, stand at the heart of an agenda of identity politics. Deceptively straightforward, initially kitsch, and ultimately profoundly insightful, Korin: Dark Matter offers up the cultural strategy of Murakami’s phenomenal project of postcolonial re-territorialization by which he single-handedly unveils a new critical perspective whilst establishing a singularly original category for Japanese art.