Takashi Murakami, born in Tokyo in 1962, is a leading contemporary artist and an heir to the Pop Art legacies of Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons. Since his first solo show outside of Japan in 1995, Murakami has soared to art world stardom due to his combination of “high” and “low” culture, his graphic style, and his wide commercial appeal. More than simply an artist, he has also worked as a curator, businessman, and filmmaker, spreading his influence throughout every sphere of culture. Murakami works in a style that he calls “Superflat,” which he defines as art that engages with Japan’s flat aesthetic as well as the shallow divide in art and culture after World War II. Trained in the classical Japanese painting style nihonga, Murakami draws inspiration from cartoons, science fiction, and art history. He is particularly known in America for his twelve-year-long collaboration with the luxury brand Louis Vuitton, whose signature monogram print he redesigned many times over. The artist then funneled his popular success back into fine art practice, incorporating the monogram into numerous paintings. In 2017, Murakami received a major retrospective at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art. As major art dealer Jeffrey Deitch has written, “Murakami is not just a leading interpreter of contemporary Japan’s unique collision of popular and traditional culture. His work and his persona are its very embodiment.”
Murakami has enjoyed strong market success for nearly two decades now, and between 2006 and 2021, his works sold on average 1.3x above pre-sale auction estimates. In that same period, 245 Murakami paintings were offered at auction, with sales indicating an average compound growth rate of 24% annually. In 2008, his anime-inspired fiberglass sculpture My Lonesome Cowboy was bought at Sotheby’s for $13.5 million 4.5x its pre-sale low estimate. In 2021 alone, collectors spent nearly $10.5 million on eighteen of Murakami’s paintings.
Soon the artist will launch his Murakami.Flowers project, a series of NFTs featuring the smiling daisies that fill many of his paintings, and thus will join a new wave of artists using blockchain to integrate their artworks with emerging technologies. As the art world’s appreciation of graphic artists who blend popular culture with high art-creators like Kaws and Beeple-continues to grow, Murakami’s influence on a new generation of artists becomes ever more evident.
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Murakami’s Unique Style
Unique characters populate all of Murakami’s creations. Mr. Dob, a hybrid of Western and Eastern cartoons including Mickey Mouse and the Japanese cat Doraemon, is perhaps the most significant. Often understood as an avatar of the artist himself. Mr. Dob features in many of Murakami’s most important artworks. In 727, 1996, a three-panel painting owned by the Museum of Modern Art, Mr. Dob surfs on a wave reminiscent of those created by traditional Japanese ukiyo-e printmakers, perfectly encapsulating the artist’s mix of old and new. Kaikai, a smiling character in white bunny ears, and Kiki, a pink mouse with three eyes and sharp fangs—act as spiritual guardians of Murakami’s world. The anime girl Miss Ko2, a leggy blonde in a tiny dress, represents his interest in Japan’s otaku subculture, a group which is obsessively interested in anime and manga. Murakami’s collections with Louis Vuitton were some of the label’s most lucrative of all time, but they aren’t the only instance when the artist had worked in collaboration with creatives from fields outside of fine art.
In 2007, Murakami created the album artwork for Kanye West’s Graduation, a record that has been certified double platinum in both America and the United Kingdom. In the growing realm of streetwear, Murakami’s influence is also strong: the artist has made collections with Supreme, vans, visvim, and many other leading brands. In 2018, he collaborated with the late artist and fashion designer Virgil Abloh on “America Too,” an exhibition of thirty-five works at Gagosian’s Los Angeles outpost. Drake purchased one of their co authored sculptures. Last year, Murakami worked with Hublot to design watches featuring his signature smiling daisy.
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