Exhibition of the week

© Murakami

Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, Los Angeles

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Through Feb. 11, 2008

Takashi Murakami has given his “eye-popping exhibition” an odd name, said Jim Farber in the Los Angeles Daily News. “While it may seem a little thing, that © symbol speaks volumes about the aura of bigbucks commercialism” that surrounds the artist’s retrospective. Boldly fusing Japanese pop culture and postmodern art theory into highpriced art and high-end fashion, “Murakami is Japan’s answer to Andy Warhol and Walt Disney,” though he’s more sex-obsessed than either. Best known for his dreamy, gaudy “superflat” paintings, he has more recently been creating metallic sculptures painted in bright cartoon colors, such as Miss Ko2 (1996). “With her oversize cartoon eyes, bodice-busting breasts, and showgirl legs, she personifies the Japanese obsession with nymphet sex goddesses.” Murakami also designs high-fashion items for Louis Vuitton, and almost 500 collectible consumer objects are displayed here alongside the 100 or so paintings, sculptures, and videos. In fact, there’s a “fully functioning Louis Vuitton store” incorporated directly into the exhibition. The idea of a museum exhibition where some items are for sale has scandalized some critics, said Christopher Knight in the Los Angeles Times. But, I don’t see the problem. It’s all part of Murakami’s goal to scramble all distinctions between art and commerce, East and West, Japanese culture and American. Though this retrospective certainly reinforces the artist’s colossal importance to contemporary art and fashion, it’s a bit overwhelming. The galleries overflow with candy-colored paintings of anime characters, metallic sexbots, and “a topiary sculpture whose flowery tendrils reached 13 feet in the air.” The effect is like “Chuck E. Cheese for grown-ups.” © Murakami is overstuffed with several undeniable masterpieces and plenty of food for thought, but Murakami’s high-energy artworks can, “in this colossal quantity, become wearing.” Murakami clearly is at the pinnacle of artworld success and popularity, said Bruce Wallace, also in the Los Angeles Times. The question is, where can he go from here? His art resonates with those born in the Cold War era and weaned on puerile pop culture. Does it speak to the “digital age” and to a “generation largely ignorant about the cultural upheavals of the postwar period?” Murakami now seems conservative, turning out 17-foot-high Buddhas (which may or may not also serve as self-portraits). “Yet few are about to write Murakami off as irrelevant,” and if © Murakami proves anything, it’s that you never know where he might go next.

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