More on Murakami

April 18, 2008

Good to see more people saying what I have (on this blog & in an article in the new TCJ) about Takashi MURAKAMI not being “Japan’s Andy Warhol,” as Mia Fineman does in a slide essay for Slate . Instead, she compares him to Walt Disney, another master marketer. But Japan already has its Disney, Osamu TEZUKA, another example of a tidy comparison that muddies the water.

Tezuka, Disney, and Murakami all have signature characters; they all founded employed other artists in their studios; they all produced animation. Respectively, they’re a humanist, a fantasist, and an otaku evangelist. Murakami’s the odd one out because he’s trying to change the structures of the fine art market, whereas the others somehow created high art in popular media.

Since Murakami should be judged in his context, I propose that he become “No Irony Art Baron Jeff Otakoons.” Besides the faux Engrish and awful pun, it’s more precise, and includes the last Next Andy Warhol in the bargain. If it doesn’t take off, it’s clear evidence that we’ll suffer Next Andy Warhols for another fifty years until the media finally gets another celebrity artist it can use for shorthand. Murakami’s too Japanese, and too otaku, for that to happen now in the West. Maybe soon.

Finally, moving from Warhol to Disney has troubling implications. It relies on an arbitrary wall between high & low culture. Fineman writes, “For those of us who were reared on the idea that art is a special kind of luxury product—more contemplative, denser with meaning, somehow resistant to the status quo—- Murakami’s radical leveling of art and commerce can be pretty unsettling.” While I (and most Cistercians) bristle at the linking of luxury and contemplation, I can’t relate to the split. For those of us reared on the experience and not the idea of these things, there are multivalent works, some trash, some exalted, all on a level field. A lot of the trash commands high prices in the white cube, while some of the lowest forms reward the most contemplation. My reading of Murakami finds little in his work, outside the attempt to build a fine art market in Japan from scratch, not already fully realized in the anime and manga he mines. I think his writings confirm this. To call his work “historically important” without engaging the otaku culture that defines it is to suffer from myopia.

One more thing: can we declare a moratorium on “rictus”? Thanks.

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