In the City - Murakami at Gagosian
A couple weeks ago, on the last Saturday before weekends are taken over by parties and shopping and holiday excitement, I spent a couple hours at the recently opened exhibit of new paintings and sculpture by Japanese artist, Takashi Murakami, at Gagosian Gallery's Chelsea outpost.
I've been an admirer of Murakami's work for years--I've read countless reviews of past shows and critiques of his work online and burned through my printing budget in college making glossy color copies of rare Murakami catalogues and art books in the UNC art library--but had never seen a full show in a gallery or museum until Gagosian. I didn't read a single review or even look at photos of the work before the show, and upon entering the gallery, I was surprised by what I saw.
"In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow," the title of Murakami's most recent body of work, retains the bright colors and flat, graphic style of much of his previous work, but the darkness that is only hinted at in past pieces comes center stage in this collection. While the new pieces are still comprised of the day-glo colors, cartoonish imagery, and the glossy, glittery, or metallic surfaces that have become Murakami's signature, the figures have a grotesque, demonic quality that is missing from much of the artists previous work--which is known for using conventions of Japanese kawaii culture to explore cultural fault lines and dystopian themes. The smatterings of smiling flowers and starry-eyed lion cubs are obscured by menacing, ogre-like sculptures that tower overhead. Death and disaster are clearly the focal points of this new work, and the themes of Orientalism and religious iconography through which Murakami addresses these ideas set these pieces apart from the rest of his canon.
I arrived at Gagosian expecting to see a rainbow of cheery daisies and cartoonish faces--pleasing images whose lack of depth or meaning are in themselves, suggestive of a certain darkness or omen. Instead, there was little subtlety or nuance to the darkness at Gagosian--it pretty much smacks you in the face the moment you enter the first exhibition room. While the disturbing nature of Murakami's new work is certainly a departure from the candy-coated world that made him famous (even if that world did occasionally contain sexually explicit animé sculptures...) "In the Land of the Dead..." feels like an important point in Murakami's career. And being able to experience that is an opportunity not to be passed up.
If you're in New York (permanently or as a visitor) check out the show and then warm up with a latté at the nearby High Line Hotel. Or, if you're willing to brave the winter weather, take a 13 block stroll along the High Line to The Spotted Pig for a beer and arguably the best burger in New York.
TAKASHI MURAKAMI: In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow runs through Saturday, January 17, 2015 at Gagosian Gallery (555 W 24th Street).