Takashi Murakami Defied Convention & Shattered Elitism Of The Art World

by Kevin MerisanuAug 19 2019

Murakami vs Murakami starts on June 1, and it's set to be one of Takashi Murakami's most ambitious exhibitions to date.

In honour of that, we decided to put together a piece one how Takashi Murakami defied convention and shattered elitism of the art world.

"Art and commerce are one." - Takashi Murakami —

Drawing from traditional Japanese painting, sci-fi, anime, and the global art market, Takashi Murakami creates paintings, sculptures, and films. His wide-ranging work embodies an intersection of pop culture, history, and fine art.

Born February 1, 1962 and raised in Tokyo, Japan - Takashi attended Tokyo University of the Arts.  Majoring in the 'traditional' style of Japanese art called Nihoga, creating outside the box art pieces. Exploring a more contemporary artistic style, media and strategy.

Unhappy with the state of contemporary art, his early work was done in the spirit of social criticism and satire. Look no further than the performance art piece Osaka Mixer Project, parodies of the "message" art from 90s Japan Dobozite Dobozite Oshamanbe and even the Randoseru Project.

Murakami began developing his own pop icon. The one known as "Mr.DOB" which became the first of many morphing and recurring motifs we often seen throughout Murakami's work. What's crazy is how many of his early works did not receive good reception in Japan.

Mr. Dob, edition 750, 2017 Resin 10 × 10 × 10 in 25.4 × 25.4 × 25.4 cm

Participating in the PS1 Internation Studio program in New York, Murakami was exposed and inspired by Western contemporary artists such as Anselm Kiefer and Jeff Koons. This lead to the creation of his small studio - Kaikai Kiki, with the help of the Hiropan Factory in Kapan.  He then returned to Japan to develop the core concepts he would exhibit at marjoram galleries and institutions across the globe.

Kaikai Kiki helps Murakami execute his art and exhibits, in addition helping with the production and promotion of his work. The company also helps manage young artists, international art projects, merchandising and the operation of the annual Geisai art fair.

Takashi Murakami Kaikai Kiki, 2005 Huile, acrylique, résines synthétiques, fibre de verre et inox 210 x 105,5 x 66 cm; 212,5 x 102 x 50,5 cm Collection Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris

Geisai gives artists the ability to create their own booths and interact with buyers, changing the pre-screened gallery model that's normally used. Every year, Geisai, travels to a different city.

The devotion from Murakami to nurturing and supporting younger artists is incredible. Using the business model of a record label to an extent, he offers a full ecosystem for potential success and creation.

— Superflat & Neo-Pop —

In 2000, Murakami published his "Superflat" theory in the catalog for a group exhibition of the same name that he curated for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.


He coined the term "superflat", which describes both the aesthetic characteristics of the Japanese artistic tradition and the nature of post-war Japanese culture and society.

The theory posits that there is a legacy of flat, 2-dimensional imagery from Japanese art history in manga and anime. This style differentiates itself from the western approach in its emphasis on surface and use of flat planes of color. Superflat also served as a commentary on post-war Japanese society in which, Murakami argues, differences in social class and popular taste have 'flattened,' producing a culture with little distinction between 'high' and 'low'.

Takashi Murakami, Tan Tan Bo Puking – a.k.a. Gero Tan, 2002, acrylic on canvas mounted on board, 141 ¾ x 283 ½ x 3 in. Private collection, courtesy of Galerie Perrotin. © 2002 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Photo: Adam Reich

To keep accordance with the Superflat concept, Murakami repackages elements that would be considered 'low' and present them as 'high-art'. Further flattening by repackaging this 'high-art' as merchandise like plush toys and figures or shirts.

View of the exhibition of Takashi Murakami’s “Learning the Magic of Painting” at Galerie Perrotin, Paris from September 10 to December 23, 2016. Photos: Claire Dorn. All artworks © Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved

Taking cue from Andy Warhol's factory, Murakami developed a new form of Pop art, aptly titled Neo-Pop, in which the line between pop culture and high art

Cosmos Ball by Takashi Murakami, molded plastic, 2000, Honolulu Museum of Art

“I set out to investigate the secret of market survivability – the universality of characters such as Mickey Mouse, Sonic the Hedgehog, Doraemon, Miffy, Hello Kitty, and their knock-offs, produced in Hong Kong,” - Takashi Murakami

In 2011, Google commissioned a doodle tagged as "First Day of Summer" created by Murakami. This later lead to a Winter Solstice doodle for the Southern Hemisphere.


Mr. DOB’s made his fine art debut in the three-paneled acrylic on canvas artwork entitled 727. Created in 1996, the large-scale work measures 9’ 10” x 14’ 9” (299.7 x 449.6 cm). In this piece, the character rides a traditional Japanese portrayal of an ocean wave — evoking the motifs found within the historic woodblock prints of legendary Japanese artist Hokusai (1760-1849).


Murakami shatters the illusion of elitism of the art world, while  benefiting from it economically. His collaboration with Louis Vuitton destroyed the line between art and commerce, while the wide availability of his trinkets enable anyone to own a Murakami piece.

Murakami’s work extends to mass-produced items such as toys, key chains, and t-shirts. In 2002 he began a multiyear collaboration with Marc Jacobs on the redesign of the Louis Vuitton monogram.

In 2007, Murakami created the cover art for Graduation (Kanye West). He also directed the Good Morning video (a personal favorite of the CND team)

In 2009 Murakami and the esteemed art historian Nobuo Tsuji began a creative dialogue centered on a group of Japanese artists known as the Edo eccentrics. This collaboration led to an exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 2017

Takashi Murakami is seen at his recent ‘Bubblewrap’ exhibition at the Contemporary Art Museum in Kumamoto. | PHOTO BY TOMOHIKO TAGAWA ©︎2018 TAKASHI MURAKAMI/KAIKAI KIKI CO., LTD. ALL RIGHT RESERVED

Pharrell Williams showcased a collaborative sculpture with Murakami in 2009 at Art Basel.

2014 saw another Pharrell x Murakami collab with kz of livetune. Murakami created a music video remix of the Hatsune Miko song "Last Night, Good Night". This was an incredible team backed by The Creators Project - headed by Vice and Intel. We also got a special drop by Billionaire Boys Club in the form of a t-shirt with illustrations from his first film Jellyfish Eyes

2018 brought us an incredible transcendence between fashion and art. Virgil Abloh and Murakami collaborated on a series of artworks.


"Murakami and Abloh have created an art, media, and production collaboration in layered paintings, large-scale sculptures, and the merging of their respective trademarks and brand names. Multi-hyphenate cult figures in their fields, they push against the parameters of fashion, art, and popular culture, provocatively blurring the lines between them"

Some of Murakami's earlier sculptures also saw high price tags from the art market. Hiropon (1997), a life-sized satirical sculpture of an anime character sold for $427,500 in 02', Miss ko2,, a 6-foot model of an anime-inspired maid sold for $567,500 in 03' which got put up for auction in 2019 and sold for 22.9 million HKD. My Lonesome Cowboy sold for $15.2 million.

Murakami's first retrospective ©Murakami traveled through 4 major art museums in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Frankfurt and Spain. This exhibition brought him wide-spread attention, with a Louis Vuitton boutique at one of the exhibits. Murakami was later named on of Time magazine's '100 Most Influential People" - the only visual artists included. All of this happened between 2007 - 2009.

Murakami became the third artist ever, to exhibit at the Palace of Versailles, with 15 rooms and the park for all his creations. 2012 saw the Murakami-Ego exhibition, which featured a 100-meter long painting depicting the suffering after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.


Starting Jun 1 - Sep 1 2019 is the Murakami vs Murakami exhibition

MURAKAMI vs MURAKAMI features divergent extremes of the artist’s oeuvre—from his large-scale post-apocalyptic works to his optimistic flower pieces, and then to his contemplative Enso paintings, offering Buddhist visions of enlightenment.

A major survey exhibition of the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami (b. 1962, Tokyo, Japan), which opens from 1 June to 1 September 2019. The exhibition will explore the multifaceted universe of the cultural phenomenon of this Japanese super-star artist. Taking over all art galleries at Tai Kwun, this comprehensive survey will feature over 60 paintings and sculptures in a stunning, immersive setting that showcases the intriguing paradoxes embodied in the diverse work and life of Takashi Murakami. One of the most influential artists in the world, Takashi Murakami has the ability to amaze as well as to confound, with a particular but subtle critique of contemporary culture. He also has an uncanny knack for reaching out far beyond the realm of contemporary art to a broader mainstream audience.

Quotes from Murakami on the upcoming event:

"Although I didn’t quite grasp what he had in mind, I decided to take the challenge on, thinking that I might open up a new possibility for myself by responding to the unprecedented request. Little did I know what a tremendous undertaking this would turn out to be! It meant that I somehow had to express a sense of chaos on an enormous cotton canvas, 7m in height and 70m in length. Along the way I repeatedly cursed myself that this was an impossibility, but I had no choice but to make it work since I had taken it on.... it turned out to be a huge task just to flip the 7m x 70m canvas, and it took inordinate amount of time. To make the matter even worse, an accident of a sort awaited us… the rainy season! In the beginning we were working in the parking lot in front of my painting studio on sunny days but the constant rain now made it impossible for us to continue. I ended up having to rent a studio space specifically for this painting, inadvertently making it an extremely costly object."

Not only does Murakami merge different time periods, styles, and subject matter in his work, but his approach to art crosses the boundaries between gallery, studio, art fair, and media as well.

The beauty of Murakami is his life long goal of making sure his art is accessible to all. Everyone can own a Murakami piece. In a world of exclusive drops and long lines - he blazes his own trail.

Being one of the greatest artists in the history of the world, we seem to not celebrate our creatives we do athletes. Accolades and championships are parallel to exhibitions and seeing the world love your art. Murakami bridged this gap and continues to smash the lines between art and commerece.

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