What is Superflat art? Art Radar explains

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.

Liquidated LV Black Murakami, 2009. Acrylic on Metal 120x160x10 HK $220,000

Liquidated LV Black Murakami, 2009, acrylic on metal, 120 x 160 x 10 cm. Image courtesy Artnet.

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.

Yoshitomo Nara, 'Wind', 1999, acrylic on canvas.

Yoshitomo Nara, ‘Wind’, 1999, acrylic on canvas. Image courtesy the artist.

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.

Takashi Murakami (b. 1962), ‘The World of Sphere’, (diptych), 2003, acrylic on canvas, 350 x 350 cm, est. HKD16 – 24 million / USD2.1– 3.1 million. Image courtesy Sotheby’s.

Takashi Murakami, ‘The World of Sphere’, (diptych), 2003, acrylic on canvas, 350 x 350 cm. Image courtesy Sotheby’s.

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.

Kaikai Kiki All Star exhibition flyer, currently showing at Takashi Murakami's new Taipei art space, KaiKai Kiki Gallery Taipei.

“Kaikai Kiki All Star” exhibition flyer, 2010, Takashi Murakami’s Taipei art space, KaiKai Kiki Gallery Taipei.

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's "New Day" paintings were sold in Taipei to raise money for Japan. Image from focustaiwan.tw.

Takashi Murakami’s “New Day” paintings were sold in Taipei to raise money for Japan. Image from focustaiwan.tw.

'Natural Lies' (2010) by top-grossing Filipino artist Ronald Ventura. Image taken from artmarketmonitor.com.

Ronald Ventura, ‘Natural Lies’, 2010. Image taken from artmarketmonitor.com.

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.”

Takashi Murakami, 'Korin Dokuro', 2010, acrylic on canvas, 59 inches in diameter. Image taken from gg-art.com.

Takashi Murakami, ‘Korin Dokuro’, 2010, acrylic on canvas, diameter 59 inches. Image taken from gg-art.com.

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.”

Susan Kendzulak

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Related Topics: Japanese contemporary artists, consumerism, overviews, pop art, cartoon, manga, anime

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