As Takashi Murakami would be the first to admit, art history is all about identifying iconic artists who can be held up as representives of movements or periods.
Right now there are at least two movements that will one day require their champions. One is the rise of non-Western art; the other is the final consummation of the union between art and commerce, which was set in motion by the Pop artists.
Murakami has a shot at both titles, and his throwing in the towel at this point, and thus putting a premium on his output to date, will hardly damage his chances.
It was Murakami who most successfully located the socket by which to plug a non-Western art tradition into the Western cannon. His Superflat movement not only converted a many thousand-year-old art heritage into a market-friendly commodity but also pushed the envelope for Western artists too (many of whom have usurped his “flat” ways). And importantly, his moves preceded a flood of Chinese, Indian and Southeast Asian artists, all trying to be different, and all hauling, in one way or another, remnants of their complex indigenous artistic heritages into the bright lights of American and European galleries.
Murakami, who is occassionally referred to as the “Warhol of Japan,” has also figured heavily in the conjoining of art and commerce. His highly successful collaboration with Louis Vuitton, in which he made colorful riffs on the LV monogram for handbags and other accessories, will be given its reductio ad absurdum at “MURAKAMI,” when Louis Vuitton opens a fully functional boutique within the exhibition.
Of couse, in the pursuit of this title, Murakami still has some heavyweight competition to contend with. Earlier this year English artist Damien Hirst obliterated any boundaries between the art and precious stones markets by making a sculpture of a skull using 8,601 flawless diamonds and platinum; it sold for $100 million.
Is Murakami’s shop-in-gallery enough to compete with that? Only time will tell.
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