Brooklyn Museum Awash in Murakami’s Colorful Kitsch


Published: May 1, 2008

Takashi Murakami is about to steal your Brooklyn Museum virginity—assuming that you’ve never had the pleasure of switching from the D to the 4 and checking out one of the five boroughs’ sweetest contemporary art museums, that is. Through July 13, the contemporary artist often referred to as the “Japanese Warhol” shows his color-saturated, fantastical fine art works and commercial creations in a two-floor retrospective of his work from 1991 to present.

Murakami is best known in the States for his commercial yet artistic corporate logos and toy designs—his designs and cartoons can be found in the marketplace everywhere from $6,000 Louis Vuitton purses to cheap, mass-produced stickers, key-chains, cell phone holders and stuffed toys. He uses bright colors and cartoons to play on pop culture, while remaining historically and intellectually conscious.

At the Brooklyn Museum, Murakami’s vivid cartoons and designs are exhibited in a broad range of artistic mediums.  Everything from fine art canvases to tripartite anime sculptures to the trendy 2001 Eye-Love design for Louis Vuitton (which can been seen on canvas or purchased on purses at a boutique half-way through the exhibit) are on view.

The bright colors and friendly monsters that characterize Murakami’s work might appear catered toward a younger crowd at first. But when examined more closely, his seemingly innocent, upbeat and flat works are extremely deep and often dark. Murakami’s canvases allude to the Japanese state of mind during the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. His fine art work draws imagery from both Buddhism and the Bible and is inspired by 12th century picture scrolls, minimalism and Zen painting. Your liberal arts education will most definitely be put to test while walking through this narrative exhibit, which fluidly combines personal expression, high art, mass culture and commercialism.

Combining pop art techniques with a sexuality derived from the geek subcultures of manga and anime, the works of this artist are not to be missed. Highlights include his Warhol-inspired oxidation canvases, created by applying and sanding away layer upon layer of paint, and a room wallpapered with what The New York Times called a “riot of manically cheerful flowers…building at times to hallucinatory intensity.” The room may lead you to question artistic standards and drive you mad, like Monet’s radical impressionist work did to critics of his day.

At the exhibit’s onset one becomes acquainted with Murakami’s characters, which are consistent throughout his works, particularly the scary-yet-friendly (or scarily friendly) Mr. DOB. DOB is Murakami’s signature character—his take on a Sonic the Hedgehog or Mickey Mouse type character (Disney motifs are consistent throughout his work).  DOB’s name, the Japanese version of “why,” reveals Murakami’s existential tendencies.  Towards the end of the exhibit, Murakami shows us DOB confronting the face of death, in a Dali-inspired work reminiscent of a sort of Judgment Day: the character pukes bright colors as he’s drawn to the afterlife. This exhibit is artistically moving, visually pleasing, intellectually stimulating and culturally enlightening—what more could you ask for?