Doha, Qatar

Takashi Murakami, Welcome to Murakami-Ego, 2012, vinyl, fiber-reinforced plastic, polyamide, 19' 8 1/4“ x 17' 10 3/4” x 20' 5 1/4".

Takashi Murakami, Welcome to Murakami-Ego, 2012, vinyl, fiber-reinforced plastic, polyamide, 19' 8 1/4“ x 17' 10 3/4” x 20' 5 1/4".

Takashi Murakami

Al Riwaq Art Space

Takashi Murakami, Welcome to Murakami-Ego, 2012, vinyl, fiber-reinforced plastic, polyamide, 19' 8 1/4“ x 17' 10 3/4” x 20' 5 1/4".

Visitors were greeted on the way into the latest megashow by Takashi Murakami with Welcome to Murakami—Ego, 2012, a nearly twenty-foot-high balloon in the shape of the artist sitting down in his casual shorts and T-shirt. Crushed into the space, he was an extremely imposing presence, especially since the realism of the gigantic FRP (fiber-reinforced plastic) head can be equaled only by Madame Tussaud’s wax figures; his outstretched hand seems to demand the praise and worship due a supericon. Antithetical to the candy-colored Pop associated with the artist, this self-portrait is anything but cartoonlike, printed with details such as body hair or fingerprints, while the coloring is natural and subdued. Given that everything below the shoulders is inflated plastic, the rendering of the body is delicate and accurate, capturing subtle curves in the extremities as well as the plumpness of the flesh; here the self-love expressed in the exhibition “Murakami-Ego” penetrated to the smallest detail.

Several rooms were adorned with the superflat legacy of the 2000s, after which a painting the length of a football field, The 500 Arhats, 2012, depicts five hundred apostles of Buddha according to a tradition dating back to the Tang dynasty. The work, which was created in response to the Tohoku earthquake in March 2011, here covered the walls of the vast main hall. Proclaiming the end of what he calls the Otaku period (using the word for self-indulgent, obsessive fans of anime or manga) in his moralizing preopening talk, Murakami said he hopes to achieve a breakthrough and help normalize the lives of those affected by the catastrophe. The religious theme of the work allegedly reflects the Heian period, when people struggled through a multitude of natural and historical disasters, and evokes a story line typical of Japanese anime, with its visions of destruction. But far from having any cathartic impact, the painting here seemed just one more big attraction in a show crowded by commercialism, not much different from the circus tent with billboards announcing the playlist of the animations shown inside, bracketed by the balloons of Kaikai and Kiki, made by the artist’s company Kaikai Kiki for the 2010 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, or Tongari-kun, 2003–2005, and four accompanying sculptures, which sit on Heaven’s Gate, 2012, an LED-covered pedestal that ceaselessly changes color. Illuminated with spotlights among the sculptures’ big-headed characters, the elongated painting looks more like a panoramic comic strip than an invitation to piety.

The product of eight months’ labor by roughly two hundred assistants working in 24/7 shifts to keep the pace up, The 500 Arhats is the culmination of the Murakami studio’s technical mastery; synthesizing previous experimentations on surface textures in works such as Warp, 2009, the surface of each panel was coated with layers of crisp silkscreened patterns—tiny rings, Benday dots, and diamond shapes—providing visual energy and a digitalized appearance. The acrobatic spectrum of motifs represented, from the solar system to a miniature 500 Arhats painting, is entertaining, and the handling of the paint seems strictly disciplined, without a trace of manual intervention. While Murakami’s usual wide-eyed girls and fluffy animals are nowhere to be seen in this work, a similar kind of thickly outlined figuration, equally deformed and comical, is persistently present in the depictions of the Arhats and their companion animals from Chinese mythology. Although the mere switching of subjects from kawaii characters to enlightened monks does not succeed in constituting a conversion from the profane to the sacred, the spectacular scale and rigorous execution deserve recognition as a triumph of project management.

Shinyoung Chung