When he was asked about both the projected and the collateral impact of his Superflat style on art, Murakami said that he was waiting for the western high-art sticks and stones to start falling over him, and that he was "ready with his hard hat". The style, the movement that he created is based on a few controversial premises - pop culture, Japanese post-war consumerism and sexual fetishism. But what eventually happened is something he did not need any hats for, except maybe as an accessory designed by, let’s say, Louis Vuitton. His broad-based, far-reaching approach to art and its forms of appearance, agents and proxies is far more diligent and deliberate than what meets the eye at first. Although the global audiences, and the "ordinary people", found out about him mostly thanks to Mark Jacobs and Murakami's collaboration with Louis Vuitton fashion brand in the beginning of 2000s (and the younger generations probably due to the cover for Kanye West’s album Graduation) Murakami is more than a designer - which doesn’t make him less of an artist. On the contrary, his capability to work in different fields and to successfully employ fine arts is something maybe even the biggest pop artists would admire him for. Murakami knows how to play with the qualities that usually classify arts as “high”, but also knows to appreciate art as such.
Superflat is not only based on the depth of the surface as a physical feature, although we know it is one of the things that describes it. The style was conceived with regards to the sensibility of people born in the ‘60s, the post-war generation of Japan that grew up on anime and manga, which had antiwar storylines and talked about an established set of themes. They were also influenced by the American culture, which the Japanese youth somehow wanted to be a part of after the war, and all of this resulted in something a bit unexpected, something that the Japanese artist dared to proclaim, after hosting an exhibition in Los Angeles under the same name. Apart from being incredibly visually assertive and attractive (which, in terms of high-art, is not a preference – but as an alternative version of pop art is completely legitimate), these images also tell us something about the overall character of Japanese tradition and art. Murakami claims that Japanese culture does not have any 3 dimensional images. But does it still speak in the same language, now that the western visual culture is being re-shaped? Speculations do exist – did we leave Superflat’s original notion and significance back in the 2000s, or is it still something relevant to the new generations? Whichever of these is true, the influence of this prolific artist is evident, in popular culture and in art as well. One of the many proofs is the existence of SoFlo Superflat - an urban pop art movement in South Florida that combines bright colors and ultra flat images. Of course, the movement was completely inspired by Superflat.
This may be an attempt to answer the previously posed question about the role of Superflat today. Let us dig into what the artist has to show us, but not as an author this time. Takashi Murakami is many things, many interesting things, but one of the most curios ones is probably related to his evident and honest love for art (at some point one may find that this love is actually addiction, something Murakami said himself about collecting art). Murakami’s art collection will probably tell us how he refers to art when he’s not making it himself. He is a great admirer of Anselm Kiefer and a few other western artists, but he also collects pieces of Japanese art, the traditional and the new ones. Some of these pieces were obviously affected by Superflat, and some of them simply demonstrate how different historical periods and social regimes influenced art. Make sure to read more about the collection, and don’t miss the opportunity to see this exhibition at Yokohama Museum of Art in Yokohama, Japan, anytime from January 30th through April 3rd 2016. And if you’re a Murakami fan like we are, we also suggest that you visit an exhibition of his own artworks, at Mori Museum in Tokyo, Japan. It will be on view until March 6th 2016.
Featured images: Takashi Murakami - portrait; Takashi Murakami - Ego exhibition preview; Takashi Murakami character bag for Louis Vuitton; Takashi Murakami - Blum Poe (Arhat exhibition). All images used for illustrative purposes only.