THE HISTORY OF NOW: THE COLLECTION OF DAVID TEIGER SOLD TO BENEFIT TEIGER FOUNDATION FOR THE SUPPORT OF CONTEMPORARY ART
(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)
Illustrating an early representation of Takashi Murakami’s single most celebrated character across an enormous, double-paneled silver surface, the scarlet visage of And Then, and Then and Then and Then and Then (Red) from 1996 stands as the apotheosis of the artist’s continuing investigation of an international Pop identity that, while informed by innumerable stylistic traditions, is entirely unprecedented within Contemporary art. By far the most widely represented subject in Murakami’s oeuvre, ‘Mr. DOB’ has become the subject of numerous paintings, sculptures, and alternate forms since its original inception, achieving an international celebrity akin to that of the cartoon characters it was inspired by. Over the years, DOB has come to serve as an alter-ego for Murakami himself, a constantly evolving character who embodies all the complexities and nuances of an elaborate and ever-changing artistic identity. Uncannily familiar, the phantasmagoric character depicted in And Then, and Then and Then and Then and Then (Red) smiles out at the viewer with the childlike innocence of a cartoon and, simultaneously, the enigmatic illegibility of a sphinx; a seminal masterpiece of the artist’s oeuvre, the present work attests to the fusion of intrinsically disparate cultural idioms within a single oeuvre that has secured Murakami’s status as amongst the most influential and acclaimed artists to emerge from Asia in the post-war era.
Executed in 1996, And Then, and Then and Then and Then and Then (Red) is amongst the most ambitious of Murakami’s depictions of his iconic character, Mr. DOB. An artist caught at the crossroads of Japanese tradition and the internationalization of American culture, the creation of DOB in 1993 stemmed from Murakami’s desire to create a concept that could speak to and about contemporary Japanese society, but be understood and distributed within the wider world. The artist decided that a ubiquitous promotional character, like those that had become so prevalent in the neon-lit urban streets of Tokyo, would be the most authentic. While he hails from the world of marketing, however, DOB is a disengaged signifier, a perpetually shifting symbol of artificially constructed brand narratives. While strongly reminiscent of Disney’s Mickey Mouse, the mouse-like creature constitutes a composite-type of numerous familiar cartoon characters, including those of Sonic the Hedgehog, Doraemon, Hello Kitty and even the Russian character Cheburashka. The character’s name is an abbreviation of a phrase ‘Dobozite, Dobozite, Oshamanbe,’ which combines a phrase popularized by the 1970s manga Inakappe Taisho (The Country General), in which characters deliberately mispronounce the Japanese word ‘doshite,’ meaning ‘why,’ as ‘dobozite,’ with a catchphrase of a popular comedian Toru Yuri, ‘oshamanbe.’ After first using the nonsensical phrase in a 1993 sign piece, Murakami created the fantastical figure of DOB as a type of personal logo; indeed, with a ‘D’ emblazoned on the left ear, a ‘B’ upon the right, and the round head serving as an ‘O’ between, the smiling visage of the present work declares his own name, before the viewer has to ask. Adding further significance to the character, the original meaning of ‘dobozite, dobozite,’ can be translated as “why, why?,” suggesting that the world of DOB is one in which basic inquiries can, like the character himself, multiply in an infinite variety of forms and mutations. Describing the intent of DOB and Murakami alike, one critic remarks: “He faces the world with a question continually on his lips: ‘Why is this important? Why is this meaningful? Why is this good? Why is this read? Why is this art?… By the way, why does this have meaning?” (Exh. Cat., Tokyo, Museum of Contemporary Art, Takashi Murakami: summon monsters? open the door? heal? or die?, 2001, p. 62)
Through his celebrated paintings and sculptures, Murakami creates a fusion of two intrinsically discrete cultural realms: that of traditional Japanese society, in conflict with the influential power of Western visual culture. In his appropriation of familiar figures within cartoon and anime culture, Murakami invokes the legacy of American Pop art, extending the trajectory of artists such as Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jeff Koons into the digital era. In the present work, the dappled screening and close-set frame of the face recalls Warhol’s close-ups of such figures as Marilyn Monroe and Elizabeth Taylor; likewise, Murakami’s overall repetition of DOB in numerous different colors, scales, and media recalls the older artist’s experimentations in his silkscreen series of Flowers and Campbell’s Soup Cans. As the single most represented subject in Murakami’s oeuvre, DOB is likewise highly reminiscent of Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse, a figure whose monetary value within contemporary consumer culture is virtually incalculable. Unlike Disney however, for whom the character became the core image of a fixed brand and corporate identity, Murakami has created a perpetually evolving being, as fluid and intangible as the myriad of cultural influences which inform the present work. Referring to the constant presence of eyes in his work, Murakami notes: “I discovered the presence of eyes incites spectators to interact with the work… I wanted to summarize these two aspects, the art of the quest for identity on the one hand and the art of ‘design’ on the other.” (The artist in “Interview with Philippe Dage,” Le Monde Magazine, September 11, 2010) Indeed, meeting our gaze from beneath long crimson lashes, the smiling creature of And Then, and Then and Then and Then and Then (Red) demands singular and undivided attention, drawing the viewer into a world at once comfortingly familiar and tantalizingly uncanny.
A conceptual figurehead, Mr. DOB is composed of hybrid, incompatible identities: innocence and sensuality, East and the West, predator and prey, high art and mass production. Emblazoned across two monumental silver panels, the searing scarlet visage of And Then, and Then and Then and Then and Then (Red) exemplifies the juncture at which Murakami’s practice falls, fusing and reconfiguring the quintessential tenets of traditional Japanese aesthetics with the Americanization of Asian culture that occurred across the second half of the Twentieth Century. Given the foundation of Japanese painting in decorative arts and a two-dimensional perspective, Murakami pays tribute to Japanese classical representation through his so-called Super Flat realm, exemplified in the enormous visage of the present work. The foremost figure of Murakami’s Super Flat world, here, DOB is stunningly rendered across a double-panel format highly reminiscent of ancient Japanese painted folding screens and multi-paneled ink drawings; straddling two painterly worlds, the binary structure alludes to the decentralized compositions inherent to traditional Japanese art, while the centralized depiction of Mr. DOB lends itself to the heyday of Western Pop art. With acute sensibility and astute perception, Murakami delves into the significance behind the nonsensical mass-media motifs which permeate our contemporary cultural sphere. Recognizing and responding to the basic consumer’s innate desire for the next, burgeoning wave of commercial desire, he offers a figurehead for contemporary capitalist consumerism, elevated and transformed into a symbol for art at the highest levels.
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