Flowers and Skulls

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Gagosian Gallery until Feb 9

It would not be a disservice to describe the oeuvre of Japanese art superstar Takashi Murakami as being akin to an assembly-line. As again evidenced by this exhibition of his latest large-scale paintings with familiar visual motifs by the artist, Murakami and his art production and management enterprise, Kaikai Kiki, produce works by which standard critical criteria of aesthetic value and significance of artistic process have ceased to apply; the artist functions here solely as a trademark.

Most paintings at this Gagosian Gallery showcase, such as Blue Life Force or several pieces that are labelled Yet to be Titled, are all-over compositions of Murakami’s cartoonish skull or, alternately, his happy-face flower in different configurations. Such pieces seem to be further variations of familiar products designed to appease collectors looking for variety. The single compelling moment in the exhibition is the diptych of self-portraits, Self-Portrait of the Manifold Worries of a Manifoldly Distressed Artist and The Artist’s Agony and Ecstasy, which contain speech bubbles carrying the artist’s musings on life and art. The words are loaded with human doubt and sadness, such as when he recalls a moment in his youth when he was moved by the disturbed self-portraits of Horst Janssen to someday paint ‘my own pathetic self’.

In light of such statements, the rest of the show stands as a testament to the inexorable feeling that, despite his worldly success, Murakami is afloat in an operation at once bigger than himself and beyond his control. Perhaps this display can be a cautionary tale for aspiring artists. As author Bret Easton Ellis once said: ‘this is not an exit’.

Matthew Wong 

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