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Takashi Murakami
Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills, California
Review by Jody Zellen

Takashi Murakami, "Doraemon an d I," 2019, acrylic and platinum leaf on camvas mounted on aluminum frame, 47 1/4 x 47 1/4". © 2019 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd.. all rights reserved. Courtesy Gagosian

Continuing through April 13, 2019

Takashi Murakami's exhibitions are crowd pleasers, yet nowadays it seems more people come to view his shows to take "selfies" than to really take in the art. That Murakami can make work that appeals to wide audiences is thus both an asset and a hinderance. It is hard not to take delight in huge gold-toned flower faced smiling statues and custom emojis. Their allure is immediate.

In the ground floor space, Murakami presents large scale paintings and sculptures in his signature style. Many of the paintings are of interlocking flowers, with bright colored dots for eyes and happy open mouths surrounded by flat colored petals. His large-scale sculptures, including “A Statue of Flower Parent and Child,” “KaiKai,” “KiKi” and “Mr. DOB” are charming creatures that elicit smiles and awe. A 30-part painting entitled “Flower Emoji” is Murakami's contribution to the ever growing array of custom emojis, each petal surrounded face expressing a different emotion.

The largest piece here is the 58-foot long “Qinghua,” a blue toned painting of fish, based on a copy of the motif on a ceramic vase from Yuan Dynasty China. Murakami is a master at layering colors and patterns, navigating between making them simple and more nuanced. Many are filled with his animated characters, although some of the new works are cartoony self-portraits. He moves fluidly between real and imaginary worlds.

In the upstairs space, the work takes a different turn. In “Viral: Lamentable Addiction,” for example, Murakami includes text bubbles that challenge the purpose of the painting. He explains his path to this work in personal and art historical terms: "When I was an art university student in the early ‘90s, the big question was what one must shape one’s thoughts around and where one should draw images from in order to establish a painting, following its journey from Abstract Expressionism, Pop, Minimalism, Neo-Expressionism, and Simulationism. But now, the issue is whether a painting satisfies as visual information on the internet. In that context, this painting of mine might be mistaken for a cartoon by the look of it ... And yet, I’m convinced this embodies the cutting-edge, cynical reality of painting in 2019."

The addition of self-reflexivity is an interesting departure that equates to an acknowledgement of the artist’s complicity in his own commodification while at the same time distrusting it, a common ambivalence for many successful artists. The paintings in the upstairs space continue this line of inquiry. “What did the LV Project Mean to Me?” is a two-panel work. One side reproduces the cover of Artforum Magazine from September 2003, while the other is a hand written narrative exposé by Murakami about his experience creating works for Louis Vuitton. Murakami effectively asks us to slow down, to read and to think about his work in that commodifying context. Although textual works such as this are shown in conjunction with smaller commodities — a pleasant suite of ten paintings titled “Field of Flowers,” repeating the same composition rendered in different colors. They succeed in redirecting how one thinks about and understands the whole of Murakami's production. While Murakami still makes 'fun' works that elicit smiles, (like “Field of Flowers”), the self-referential and political pieces offer a sense of awareness that extends beyond the art market references to bring an edge back into the works.

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