Takashi Murakami’s “The 500 Arhats” at the Mori Art Museum – in pictures

The Mori Art Museum holds a major solo exhibition by the founder of Superflat.

Takashi Murakami’s latest solo show at the Mori Art Museum is his first in Japan in 14 years. Among some of his most recognised pieces on display is the 100-metre-long painting The 500 Arhats, offered to Qatar as a token of gratitude for its assistance to Japan following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.

Takashi Murakami. Photo: Okazumi Chika. Image courtesy Mori Art Museum.Takashi Murakami. Photo: Okazumi Chika. Image courtesy Mori Art Museum.

Takashi Murakami in front of ‘The 500 Arhats’, 2012. Photo: Okazumi Chika. Image courtesy Mori Art Museum.

Takashi Murakami (b. 1962, Tokyo) is one of the most recognised and acclaimed contemporary artists working today. He is known for his trailblazing, distinct style that merges Japanese pop and ‘otaku’ culture, manga and Japanese art history, engaging with themes of post-war Japan to create the concept known as ‘Superflat’.

According to Murakami, the origins of contemporary Japanese visual pop culture can be traced in historical Japanese art. The artist explored this idea in his exhibition trilogy “Superflat”, initiated in 2000-2001 with “Superflat” at the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, followed by “Coloriage” at Fondation Cartier pour L’art Contemporain in Paris in 2002 and “Little Boy: The Art of Japan’s Exploding Subcultures” at New York’s Japan Society in 2005.

Takashi Murakami, 'Hands Clapsed', 2015, acrylic on canvas mounted on aluminium frame, 180 x 240 cm. © 2015 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Takashi Murakami, ‘Hands Clasped’, 2015, acrylic on canvas mounted on aluminium frame, 180 x 240 cm. © 2015 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

A string of influential, institutional shows have presented his oeuvre worldwide, such as his most comprehensive survey exhibition “© MURAKAMI” at the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles in 2007-2008, which travelled to Brooklyn Museum, New York, Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, and Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao during 2008–2009.

In 2010, his work was on display at Château de Versailles, France (2010), as part of the palace’s programme of annual contemporary art exhibitions by major international artists.

Takashi Murakami, 'Flame of Desire – Gold', 2013, gold leaf on carbon, 482 x 188.6 x 183.1 cm. Courtesy: Blum & Poe, Los Angeles. © 2013 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Takashi Murakami, ‘Flame of Desire – Gold’, 2013, gold leaf on carbon, 482 x 188.6 x 183.1 cm. Courtesy: Blum & Poe, Los Angeles. © 2013 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Production view of Takashi Murakami's 'The 500 Arhats'. Photo: Aminaka Kenta. Image courtesy the artist.

Production view of Takashi Murakami’s ‘The 500 Arhats’. Photo: Aminaka Kenta. Image courtesy the artist.

The 500 Arhats

Curated by guest curator Miki Akiko, “The 500 Arhats” (31 October 2015 – 6 March 2016) at the Mori Art Museum marks the first time in 14 years that Murakami exhibits in Japan. The exhibition owes its title to the artist’s 100-metre-long painting The 500 Arhats (2011), which was created with the help of over 200 students from Japanese art colleges in order to complete it in a very short period of time.

It was then presented as a token of gratitude to Qatar in 2011 for its swift assistance to Japan in the wake of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami and unveiled to the public as part of Murakami’s major solo exhibition at the Al Riwaq Art Space in Doha, “Murakami: Ego” (2012), curated by Massimiliano Gioni.

Takashi Murakami, 'The 500 Arhats', 2012, acrylic on canvas mounted on board, 302 x 10,000 cm. Private collection. Installation view: “Murakami - Ego,” Al Riwaq Exhibition Hall, Doha, 2012. Photo: GION. ©2012 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Takashi Murakami, ‘The 500 Arhats’, 2012, acrylic on canvas mounted on board, 302 x 10,000 cm. Private collection. Installation view: “Murakami – Ego,” Al Riwaq Exhibition Hall, Doha, 2012. Photo: GION. ©2012 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

For The 500 Arhats, Murakami took inspiration from dialogues with Japanese art historian and Curatorial Advisor for the exhibition Tsuji Nobuo for The Geijutsu Shincho art journal, and by paintings of the Five Hundred Arhats by Kano Kazunobu (1816-1863) and Nagasawa Rosetsu (1754-1799).

Addressing themes of religion and art, human mortality and limitations, the painting consists of four sections, each bearing the name of one of the legendary Chinese guardians of the four celestial directions: a blue dragon for east, white tiger for west, red bird for south and black tortoise for north.

Takashi Murakami, 'The 500 Arhats' (detail), 2012, acrylic on canvas, mounted on board, 302 x 10,000 cm. Private collection. © 2012 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Takashi Murakami, ‘The 500 Arhats’ (detail), 2012, acrylic on canvas, mounted on board, 302 x 10,000 cm. Private collection. © 2012 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The 500 arhats refer to the enlightened disciples of Buddha who spread his teachings and gave ordinary people salvation from worldly desires. The arhats came to Japan and transmitted their learnings during the Heian period (8th-12th century); their faith flourished in paintings and sculpture throughout the country from the Edo period (17th-19th century) onwards.

During Murakami’s solo exhibition at the Mori, Kazunobu’s and Rosetsu’s Five Hundred Arhats paintings will also be on show at the Museum, to offer a dialogue between Edo artists and contemporary artists as well as to provide audiences with a more direct contact with Murakami’s sources of inspiration.

Takashi Murakami, 'The 500 Arhats' (detail), 2012, acrylic on canvas, mounted on board, 302 x 10,000 cm. Private collection. © 2012 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Takashi Murakami, ‘The 500 Arhats’ (detail), 2012, acrylic on canvas, mounted on board, 302 x 10,000 cm. Private collection. © 2012 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Takashi Murakami, 'The Birth Cry of a Universe', 201, mixed media, 420 x 293.5 x 230 mm. Courtesy: Gagosian Gallery, New York. © 2015 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Takashi Murakami, ‘The Birth Cry of a Universe’, 201, mixed media, 420 x 293.5 x 230 mm. Courtesy: Gagosian Gallery, New York. © 2015 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Murakami Now

A selection of Murakami’s latest works are exhibited alongside his major paintings, such as the large-scale, golden sculptures Flame of Desire – Gold (2013) and The Birth Cry of the Universe; the latter had been in production for nearly 10 years until just before the exhibition.

Takashi Murakami, “Ensō” series, 2015, acrylic and gold and platinum leaf on canvas mounted on aluminium frame, 170 x 144.7cm (each). © 2015 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Takashi Murakami, “Ensō” series, 2015, acrylic and gold and platinum leaf on canvas mounted on aluminium frame, 170 x 144.7cm (each). © 2015 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Murakami has created new paintings especially for this exhibition, from his signature series such as 727 and Tan Tan Bo, as well as the “Ensō” (circle) paintings and silver and gold “Karajishi” Chinese lion paintings, which are shown for the first time in Japan.

Click here to watch Murakami’s ‘Jellyfish Eyes’ (2013) trailer on YouTube

The Museum will also screen Jellyfish Eyes (2013), Murakami’s directorial debut and first feature film, on 14 November 2015, followed by a talk by the artist and actor Saito Takumi. The protagonist of the story and his classmates all befriend strange, magical creatures in a post-Fukushima world. The fantasy film, produced after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, addresses themes of family, friendship and loyalty, as well as sends a message of cooperation and hope.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia

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Related Topics: Japanese artists, Superflat, painting, sculpture, film, museum exhibitions, events in Tokyo, in pictures

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