It’s not a bird, nor a plane. It’s Superflat! A Japanese art movement takes on the world.
Superflat, a term coined by artist Takashi Murakami to denote his anime-inspired style of art, is used by other artists in Asia and abroad. Combining the flatness of commercial graphic design and the hyper-sexualised cartoon characters of Japanese comics with the aesthetic concerns of fine art, Superflat’s influence is wide-sweeping.
What started Superflat?
Hunter Drohojowska-Philp for Artnet states that when Japanese artist Takashi Murakami first organised an exhibition for PARCO department store museums in Tokyo and Nagoya, he coined the term “Superflat.” Murakami’s new term described a specific type of Japanese contemporary art that compressed, or “flattened”, various types of graphic design, fine arts and pop culture.
What is Superflat? Anime, manga and fine art
Combining a Pop aesthetic with the kitsch of Japanese kawaii (cute) culture, Superflat overtly references the flatness and two-dimensionality of Japanese anime (animation) and manga (comics). But the term also conceals a double meaning: according to Drohojowska-Philp, Superflat also stood for “the shallow emptiness of […] consumer culture.” So in that sense, when Murakami created designs for Louis Vuitton, one has to wonder if he was embracing brand name consumerism or cynically commenting on the vapidity of it.
Murakami pointed out the flatness inherent in Japanese visual culture to Artnet:
I’d been thinking about the reality of Japanese drawing and painting and how it is different from Western art. What is important in Japanese art is the feeling of flatness. Our culture doesn’t have 3-D.
The artist combined this tradition of two-dimensionality with his youthful preoccupation with the bombings of Japan during the Second World War. Interviewed by Gallerist NY, Murakami states that the relationship between war and art is a predominant concern in his work.
I don’t think the art is just bright. I think that those who were able to enjoy consumer culture and the world of consumerism were in the countries that were victorious in the war. And by the countries that were victorious in the war I mean the U.S. and the British. Societies that lost the war, like Japan, envied the consumerism of the winners but they still wanted at least to be able to borrow what they envied.
Who are Japan’s Superflat artists?
The group exhibition “Superflat,” held at MoCA Gallery, California, in 2001 included the following Japanese artists, designers, and cartoonists who either influenced or became known as Superflat artists:
- Takashi Murakami
- Yoshitomo Nara
- Chiho Aoshima
- Yoshinori Kanada (anime artist)
- Henmaru Machino (manga artist)
- Koji Morimoto (anime director)
- Katsushige Nakahashi
- Shigeyoshi Ohi
- Masafumi Sanai
- Chikashi Suzuki
- Aya Takano
- Kentaro Takekuma (manga artist)
- Hitoshi Tomizawa (manga artist)
- Enlightenment (Hiro Sugiyama)
The international faces of Superflat
Murakami claims flatness as a Japanese attribute of visual art. However, non-Japanese artists who combine high and low culture, street art, comic art, graphic design and fine art have also adopted the style. But while artists such as Philippines-based artist Ronald Ventura and San Francisco-based artist Barry McGee explore Superflat, these non-Japanese artists still have elements of depth and perspective in their works.
Superflat art might bring to mind Andy Warhol’s hybridisation of art and pop, says Hyperallergic, but “Murakami expands on that, appropriating the contemporary globalised visual culture and the new possibilities of manufacturing to create a flawless mix of high art and the lowbrow that can be bought in any country and consumed anywhere.”
The next Superflat generation
When not creating Superflat art or creating tongue-in-cheek kawaii accessories for the global fashion industry, Murakami supports Japan’s younger generation of Superflat artists. The artist runs Kaikai Kiki Co. Ltd, an art production company promoting the movement, and administers GEISAI, a biannual art fair which is “not just about selling work,” says Hyperallergic, “but also about fostering the Japanese contemporary art community and teaching young artists about the market.”
- Japanese-Korean artist Lee Ufan gets Guggenheim retrospective – review round-up – July 2011 – what are the critics saying about Lee’s American showing?
- Yayoi Kusama ‘Dots Room’ enchants young child – video on Hyperallergic – July 2011 – in this joyous video a child runs excitedly around Kusama’s Infinity Dots Mirrored Room (1996)
- Japanese contemporary art book resource: Tokyo Visualist – May 2011 – a book gives access to Japanese contemporary art through interviews, essays and biographies
- Tatzu Nishi’s ‘Merlion Hotel’ over-hyped? Art Radar collects opinions and images – April 2011 – what response has this installation engendered from public and critics?
- Takashi Murakami sells paintings for Japan after “pointless” Twitter campaign – March 2011 – the proceeds of works sold in Taipei are donated to earthquake and tsunami relief effort
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