Takashi Murakami : The 500 Arhats


I have to confess that the works of Takashi Murakami are not amongst my favourites, nor on my wish list. I have read with interest the artist’s theories of ‘superflat’ and have been positively challenged by the intriguing juxtaposition of his works at the Palace of Versailles. I have pondered the relationship of his almost factory-like production to the traditional Japanese studio system and listened to stories of his aggressive and belligerent treatment of studio staff. I have not personally responded to any particular aesthetic in his works.

I recently found myself at the Mori Art Museum in Roppongi in the presence of, and I use the word purposefully and relate it to my curatorial comments for our upcoming show ‘Presence’, the mammoth work ‘The 500 Arhats’ – to March 6 2016.

This is the first time that I have been in the ‘presence’ of Murakami’s works. The experience was salutary and reinforced my ideas of the importance of the physical object and its ‘presence’, not to mention the problems with making judgments when not ‘in the presence’ of!  It also reinforced the frustrations of that ‘fifth limb’ that I speak about in the curatorial for the upcoming ‘Presence’ exhibition at the Melbourne gallery : Museums now actively encourage visitors to take smart phone snaps and # share them. This probably has more to do with the marketing of the particular museum (Banksy’s Exit Through The Gift Shop) than any appreciation of the artwork itself.

However, to return to Murakami’s works: There is much to appreciate and ponder in the works of this exhibition. The massive scale and technical achievements of the works probably register first, but then there is the slowly dawning recognition of some sort of other-worldly, ethereal aspect of the work. It is at once a funny caricature, an overwhelming immersive experience, a parody of tradition, a tribute to tradition, an insightful commentary on the 20th and 21st Century and an ode to Buddhism and the role of religion in times of trauma. Murakami is a talented painter, something we see too little of perhaps, in the commercialization and semi-mass production of his work. I am left with more questions than before seeing the exhibition, with a need to explore further and a growing sense that the artist is a significant commentator on contemporary life – but still not on my wish list!

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Photography by Byron Bowman Kehoe. Copyright © 2015