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Takashi Murakami’s Art Collection Offers a Glimpse of His Personal Taste

Takashi Murakami and his Superflat Collection (photo by Kentaro Hirao, all images courtesy Yokohama Museum of Art)
Takashi Murakami and his Superflat Collection (photo by Kentaro Hirao, all images courtesy Yokohama Museum of Art)

Takashi Murakami’s own work has filled the exhibition spaces of many a museum, but this month the Japanese artist’s personal art collection will be unveiled to the public on a grand scale for the first time. Takashi Murakami’s Superflat Collection ―From Shōhaku and Rosanjin to Anselm Kiefer, shown at the Yokohama Museum of Art, will feature the over 1,000 objects Murakami has amassed over the course of three decades that have largely remained tucked away in a building in Tokyo.

Hakuin Ekaku, "Darumazu" (Portrait of Daruma/Bodhidharma) (click to enlarge)
Hakuin Ekaku, “Darumazu” (Portrait of Daruma/Bodhidharma) (click to enlarge)

As one may expect from the eccentric painter, the collection is rather eclectic, including — as the exhibition’s title suggests — traditional Japanese works from the Edo period to contemporary objects by international artists.

“Murakami’s approach to collecting is really diverse but there are a couple of points that stand out,” curator Akiko Miki told Hyperallergic. “First, there is a strong aspect of nostalgia. Through these works, we can see the formative experiences of his youth and what inspired him — especially with regard to contemporary art. There are also some other noticeable major themes such as war, an interest in outsiders, as well as fundamental aspects of art and life … The collection also casts light on his interest in the way artworks reflect the life of the artist, as well as the interlocking relationship of art and economics, politics, and desire, all of which are themes one can find in his own artwork.”

Murakami doesn’t gravitate to only the high-brow, though: according to The Art Newspaper, he also tends to collect stuff one tends to find in antique stores, such as old beer mugs and fantasy figurines (much of it, he noted, “looks like garbage”). The conceits of Superflat — the art movement of which Murakami conceived that refers not only to formal aspects of Japanese art but also rejects hierarchical divisions of artistic genres or periods — clearly influenced his collecting habits as much as his own formal approach to art-making.

I believe he wants to engage the wider public, especially the Japanese public, in a dialogue regarding the role of the art market as an important factor that supports the arts,” Miki said. “We then used that theme as a launching pad to carry out a critical exploration of value, the mechanisms that create it in contemporary society, and the fundamental human desire to collect and claim ownership of things.”

Plenty of eye-catching pieces are present, many of which Murakami recently purchased. Those who caught last year’s New Museum Triennial, Surround Audience, would immediately recognize one of the exhibition’s most popular artworks: Frank Benson’s hyperrealistic, 3D-printed sculpture of a nude Juliana Huxtable. A more colossal work is “Merkaba” (2010) by Anselm Kiefer, an inscribed glass-and-steel vitrine encasing airplane fuselage, oil, lead, and other elements. On view at a politically charged Gagosian show in 2010, the sculpture apparently underscored Murakami’s fascination with the German artist, whom he described as “the symbol of my becoming an artist.

Anselm Kiefer, "Merkaba" (2010) (© Anselm Kiefer, photo by Charles Duprat, courtesy Gagosian Gallery)
Anselm Kiefer, “Merkaba” (2010) (© Anselm Kiefer, photo by Charles Duprat, courtesy Gagosian Gallery)

“After seeing an exhibition of [Shinro] Ohtake’s work in Japan, I became a contemporary artist,” Murakami told the Art Newspaper. “But then I realised that he was imitating Kiefer. So my entire life has been based on a misunderstanding. When I first came to New York [in 1998], I finally saw a real Kiefer in a show at the Museum of Modern Art. When I stood in front of it, I cried. The work was ‘Osiris and Isis’ [1985–87], a painting of a step pyramid, and I was awestruck.”

Other blue chip contemporaries present in the collection are Maurizio Cattelan — Murakami owns the Italian’s “-74.400.000” (1996), a over-four-foot-tall broken safe — and David Shrigley — represented not by a humorous print but by the 2012 installation “Life Model.” Nominated for the Turner Prize in 2013, the installation originally invited visitors to sit in chairs around a large sculpture of a boy that occasionally relieved himself in a metal bucket. Murakami is also known to champion the works of fellow Japanese artists, largely through his company Kaikai Kiki, and his collection has a fair share of contemporary works from his native country. There’s an anime-influenced sculpture by Yoshitomo Nara, for instance, as well as one of Nobuyoshi Araki’s gorgeous prints — one that’s much less provocative than the revealing images for which the photographer is known.

Frank Benson, "Juliana" (2015) (courtesy of the artist)
Frank Benson, “Juliana” (2015) (courtesy of the artist)

Countering these largely flashy works are the objects that speak to Japan’s rich history of art-making. In addition to Edo period ink paintings by Soga Shōhaku and Hakuin Ekaku, Murakami owns a number of colorful ceramics from the Shōwa period by Kitaoji Rosanjin, who cultivated a fascinating interest in exploring the relationship between food and the design of the dishes on which meals appeared.

It will be interesting to see how exactly Miki frames the exhibition to lend critical insight into Murakami as an artist, but the display will at least offer an opportunity to make sense of one of Japan’s most renowned creative minds through the items that caught his eye.

Kitaōji Rosanjin, Square tray, Oribe type, from the Showa period
Kitaōji Rosanjin, Square tray, Oribe type, from the Showa period
Horst Janssen, "Self Portrait with Skull" (1982) (©VG BILD-Kunst, Bonn & JASPAR, Tokyo 2015 C0732)
Horst Janssen, “Self Portrait with Skull” (1982) (©VG BILD-Kunst, Bonn & JASPAR, Tokyo 2015 C0732)
Friedrich Kunath, "Starlite Walker" (2011) (© the artist, photo by Ben Westoby, courtesy White Cube)
Friedrich Kunath, “Starlite Walker” (2011) (© the artist, photo by Ben Westoby, courtesy White Cube)
Yoshitomo Nara, "Light My Fire" (2001) (©Yoshitomo Nara, courtesy of the artist)
Yoshitomo Nara, “Light My Fire” (2001) (©Yoshitomo Nara, courtesy of the artist)
Nobuyoshi Araki, "Sentimental Journey" (1971) (2015 print) (© Nobuyoshi Araki, courtesy of Taka Ishii Gallery, Tokyo)
Nobuyoshi Araki, “Sentimental Journey” (1971) (2015 print) (© Nobuyoshi Araki, courtesy of Taka Ishii Gallery, Tokyo)

Takashi Murakami’s Superflat Collection will be on view at Yokohama Art Museum from January 30 through April 3.

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