"Tan Tan Bo", 2001, from the series of paintings by Mr. DOB Photo: Disclosure / Takashi Murakami / Kaikai Kiki Co.

Everything seems grand in Takashi Murakami's artistic universe. Regardless of the size of the works – the Japanese artist even produced a 100-meter-long painting; the size of his studio near Tokyo, where about 100 employees work; the skyrocketing values ​​of his works, which reach several million dollars; and the influence that Murakami has achieved in the world of pop culture, having partnered with musicians such as Kanye West and Pharrell Williams and with brands such as Louis Vuitton. Creator of a company with offices in Japan and the USA (Kaikai Co.), an art gallery in Tokyo and organizer of a biennial art fair that promotes new artists, Murakami has built a veritable empire that goes far beyond the borders of your country.

Inevitably, the controversial repercussion that his production and performance received over the decades is also great. The 57-year-old artist, who has 1,6 million followers on Instagram, collects fans and critics around the world, from those who consider him a genius comparable to Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst or even Andy Warhol to those who see him more as a pop personality than as a relevant production artist. For some, Murakami's close relationship with the market also carries irony, criticism of the system and artistic depth; for others, it is just a reflection of an easily accepted production, strategically designed to satisfy commercial demands.

Be that as it may, in Murakami's outstanding curriculum – which includes solo exhibitions in the most important museums in the USA, Europe and Asia – surprisingly, there was still no exhibition in South America. The gap is now filled with the show Murakami by Murakami, on display at Instituto Tomie Ohtake, which brings together great paintings, sculptures, videos and animations made by the artist throughout his career, especially in the last decade.

“Murakami Arhat Robot”, 2015. Photo: Publicity/ Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co.

In interview with ARTE!Brasileiros granted in one of the exhibition rooms, the colorful and extravagant clothes worn by the artist contrasted with the formality of his behavior, the calm air and the low volume of his voice. “The world of criticism and the market do not go together, they are different things”, says Murakami. “The curious thing is that I get a lot of criticism, but I keep selling. And those who buy my work know these criticisms, but sometimes that's what makes them support me by buying my art. So I think the discussion about what is good or bad, criticism, is not a negative thing. She talks about the impact that a work has and even adds value to art.”

A student of the nihonga, a traditional Japanese painting style, from an early age, the artist also drank from an early age in the more modern languages ​​of manga and anime – comics and animations that are the basis of otaku culture, associated with young Japanese. In the 1990s, however, as he approached the North American artistic universe, Murakami began to develop a production that moved between East and West, between pop art and the currents of his country. A certain obsession with being accepted in the USA, according to the artist himself, ended up paying off in the middle of that decade, a period in which the artist also conceived his most famous and long-lived character, Mr. DOB

Evoking characters like Mickey Mouse, from Walt Disney, and Doraemon, from the Japanese manga, Mr. DOB gained greater complexity by incorporating, in addition to the sympathy, innocence and “cuteness” of these icons, airs of irony, violence and bizarreness. The result is a curious figure with ambiguous attributes, just like much of Murakami's work. In sculptures, paintings and animations, the character gained different versions over time, often being considered a kind of alter ego of the artist. Like Murakami, Mr. DOB would be seen simultaneously as a capitalizing agent – ​​transformed into t-shirts, caps and dolls – and a critical element of consumer society.

Already internationally acclaimed, Murakami coined the term superflat in the year 2000, to describe a Japanese pictorial style realized in two-dimensional images. Through a manifesto, the artist framed his own production within the term, but highlighted that superflat he also referred to characteristics beyond painting: “flattened”, or flat, would be not only the figures represented, but also the difficult distinction between high art and commercial art. The manifesto also refers to the complicated relationship between Japan and the USA after World War II, considering that the American influence had direct consequences on the Japanese culture developed in the following decades.

“Arhats: The Four Heavenly Kings”, 2016. Photo: Publicity/ Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co.

Twist

A great tragedy that occurred in 2011 in Japan – with the earthquake and tsunami that left thousands of people dead on the east coast of the country – also resulted in a radical turning point in Murakami's work. By following the news about the deaths, destructions and the children who were orphaned, the artist felt impelled to return to his cultural roots. “There I felt I needed to turn my art inside out. Until then I used a grammar of New York art a lot, but from 2011 onwards I started to insert this Japanese history and culture more into my art”, he says.

Most of the works exhibited at Instituto Tomie Ohtake are from this more recent period, in which Murakami also strengthened his ties with Zen Buddhism. Some examples are the grandiose paintings – the largest in the show, measuring 10 meters in length – with traditional motifs, animals and mythological beasts or with the famous arhats, who in Buddhism are beings who have reached high spiritual stature. The exhibition also has a series of videos and animations; gold-plated sculptures that reveal a more “graceful” side of the artist's production; a sculptural silicone self-portrait with robotic devices, which features the artist himself in full size; a series of disquieting paintings based on works by Francis Bacon (1909-1992); and, of course, a part dedicated to Mr. DOB

Strangely, despite affirming the growing proximity of his work to Japanese culture, Murakami sounds rigid in saying that he no longer wants to exhibit in his country – an exhibition recently opened in a gallery was an exception, due to a one-off project by the XNUMXrd. This is because he does not consider that his work is as well received in Japan as it was in other countries, including because of the little distinction between mass culture – manga and anime – and the visual arts. “When I exposed the 500 arhats [the 100-meter work] in Tokyo, people thought it was cool, they liked it, but nobody was willing to preserve it, to take care of it. I don't feel the work is valued. And there, in 2015, I felt that Japan wouldn't do it anymore, in the sense that my art there was not considered fine arts, which I consider to be the main thing”, he concludes.

Murakami by Murakami
Instituto Tomie Ohtake – Av. Faria Lima 201, Pinheiros
Until March 15st
From R $ 6 to R $ 12

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