Murakami´s Pop affiliation
The 1990’s Japanese Neo-Pop movement was strongly influenced by unbridled modernization and Westernization, two models that shaped post-war Japan. Under the American occupation, the country assimilated the market economy’s codes and structure, while adopting a capitalist perspective on modes of production. This particular time in the archipelago’s history was characterized by a strong economic growth; it witnessed the emergence of a mass consumption society thus creating favorable conditions for the development of Pop culture.
Takashi Murakami represents a generation of artists that grew up during the Japanese economic miracle – the « New Breeds ». Since his first personal exhibition in 1989, Takashi Murakami has asserted that art can be desacralized, accessible, autonomous and representative of a new Japanese culture. The artist actually refers to a ‘subculture’ born from the universe of manga and animation, which breaks with an elitist and bourgeois approach of art - typical of Western conceptions. Murakami’s vision of Japanese art is echœd in the Superflat movement which he founded; it is characterized by its graphic aspect, its flat, two-dimensional images and the will to break the barriers between traditional culture and subculture, fine arts and applied arts.
In 1989, moved by the desire to universalize Japanese artistic expressions, Takashi Murakami founded a creative workshop which he named, seven years later, “Hiropon Factory” (referring to the eponymous drug and to Warhol’s factory). In 2001, the workshop became a commercial enterprise under the name KaiKai Kiki Co Ldt, employing roughly 100 people in its Tokyo headquarters and New York office and studio. The company covers several areas, from the production of artworks to their promotion, including the representation and management of selected artists such as Chiho Aoshima, Aya Takano and Chinatsu Ban; the enterprise also gives constant support to emerging artists.
KaiKai Kiki’s workshops in Tokyo and New York cover distinct objectives, the first one focuses on the Japanese and Asian markets while the latter is dedicated to the European and North American market. A third workshop devoted to animation production was inaugurated in 2003 in Tokyo. The enterprise’s management of Murakami’s artistic production and the derivative products that carry his brand, is based on a vertical relationship model - omnipresent in Japanese society - in which the master transmits knowledge to his disciple. Indeed, Murakami follows the steps of the famous mangakas, the stars of subculture, by involving his assistants in the different stages of his creative process.
Many initiatives by Takashi Murakami emphasize his ambition to advocate in favor of young Japanese artists and to develop his role as a promoter of international events. Since 2002, as part of KaiKai Kiki’s work, the artist produced the interdisciplinary fair Geisai, dedicated to young artists that could not exhibit in galleries. More recently, the Japanese artist joined Pharrell Williams at the ComplexCon’s Host Committee, participating in the first edition of a cultural fair created by Complex Media - currently owned by Verizon & Hearst. The collaboration went beyond the the borders of art, entering the field of culture where diverse domains such as music, design or gastronomy meet.
The Murakami label
Murakami’s career shifted majorly in 2001, after he curated the famous exhibition Superflat at MOCA Los Angeles, however his creative spirit manifests itself through other areas, as we can see from his constant collaborations with the fashion industry.
In 2000, the artist started a collaboration with Issey Miyake, introducing his ‘Jellyfish Eyes’ (eyeballs images) in the spring-summer menswear collection. Following the same path, in 2003, Murakami got involved in one of his career’s most emblematic collaboration by combining key elements of his visual identity with Louis Vuitton’s trademark logos. The association between the Japanese artist and the artistic director of the time, Marc Jacobs, led to the redesign of the brand’s classic beige and brown monogram using vivid colors instead; they also created the Cherry Blossom Collection in 2005 and the Monogramouflage Collection -using camouflage patterns- in 2008. This combination of art and luxury reached its peak in 2007, when Louis Vuitton opened a temporary concept store in the Museum of Contemporary Art of Los Angeles dedicated to the Japanese artist’s universe; the store was particularly known for selling a limited edition of Louis Vuitton Monogram Canvas Neverfull « Hands » Bags. In 2013, the artist worked with the Japanese make-up brand Shu Uemura on a temporary collection, which was directly inspired from his animated film 6HP - presented three years earlier at the ‘Murakami Versailles’ exhibition. In the same year, at the Baselworld fair, the Académie Horlogère des Créateurs Indépendants presented Death Takes No Bribe, a customized watch created by Murakami in collaboration with the Japanese watchmaker Hajime Asaoka.
Murakami’s collaborations are not exclusively related to the luxury industry, the artist also manifests his vision of a more ‘popular’ art through his work with mass market brands. In 2015, for instance, he created a limited edition of handheld cases for the Belgian mint manufacturer Frisk, by inserting colorful skulls, flowers and eyeball patterns that contrasted with the sobriety of the mint candies. In the same year, Vans called upon the artist to create the Vault by Vans x Takashi Murakami collection.
Murakami and the art market
Murakami’s whole ecosystem is supported by international galleries such as Perrotin, Gagosian and Blum & Pœ; furthermore, several institutions such as the MOCA, the Serpentine Gallery the Guggenheim or the Cartier Foundation have dedicated monographic exhibitions to the artist…
Takashi Murakami is also a well-established figure in the art market :
- he is the 34th most expensive living artist according to the ranking established by Artnet in 2016.
- 2,327 of his pieces have been auctioned for a total of $ 74,978,474 between 2011 and 2016.
- 33 of Murakami’s lots were 7-figure sales over the last ten years. Among his sales records, two sculptures stand out : ’My lonesome cowboy (1998) and Miss ko² (1997) respectively sold by Sotheby’s NYC in 2008 and Phillips de Pury & Company NYC in 2010, for $ 15,161,000 and $ 6,802,500.