Critics’ Picks

Takashi Murakami, DOB in Pure White Robe (Pink & Blue), 2013, acrylic and gold leaf on canvas mounted on aluminium frame, 118 x 118".


Takashi Murakami

PLATEAU, Samsung Museum of Art
55, Sejong-daero, Jung-gu
July 4 - December 8

At “Takashi in Superflat Wonderland”—Takashi Murakami’s first retrospective in Asia—the artist’s signature characters and motifs are not merely objects to be looked at but the constitution of a fabulously plastic wonderland. The walls are plastered with grinning flowers, a huge balloon of Mr. DOB dangles from the ceiling, and the curtain of the video room is speckled with jellyfish eyes.

At the entrance of the main hall, life-size statues of Murakami’s Kaikai and Kiki flank Rodin’s massive sculpture The Gates of Hell, 1880–1917, which is part of the museum’s permanent collection. With their spotless smiles and lily-white eyes, these manga-style characters seem at odds with not just the backdrop but the literal meanings of their names, “bizarre” and “strange” (too cute, they are!). But, clutching skull-headed staffs with their tiny fists, the juxtaposition between their squeaky demeanor and the Brobdingnagian backdrop becomes ominous—and actually quite apt considering the Murakami’s persistent concern with wartime trauma and the ways in which it simmers under the surface of Japan’s prosperous (and peaceful?) postwar society.

Many of the works in the exhibition have been shown before, and Murakami’s style has changed very little since 2000, when he introduced his “superflat” aesthetic. Japan, however, has changed quite a bit in that time (the great earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster). In the wake of widespread concerns regarding radiation leaks and the safety of Japanese products, it is not Murakami’s otherworldly skulls and melted mushrooms that seem fantastical but Kaikai and Kiki themselves and the kingdom of happy artificiality they so well safeguard.