Beneath the Surface

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Whatever image you have of Takashi Murakami — whether it’s the Japanese artist who designed those rainbow-colored Louis Vuitton bags for Marc Jacobs, or the sculptor and painter who borrows from animation, manga and Warhol — after seeing his amazing retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum, you’ll likely be surprised by the breadth of his work and how deep his influences run. Organized by L.A.’s MOCA, it’s the most comprehensive look at his life’s work to date. Unlike L.A., though, the emphasis here is not on his sculptures but his paintings, which are populated with innocent-seeming iconography like mushrooms and cosmos flowers.

But the darkness and perversion are always present. Super Nova (1999), for instance, was as much inspired by a Japanese book on vegetables as the mushroom clouds after the Nagasaki and Hiroshima bombings (click on the image detail to see the full painting). Beside it, the Xeroxed plans for the work, complete with Pantone colors, give us a glimpse of how the artist works with his team of assistants at KaiKai KiKi, his fabrication workshop in Japan. They produced five different wallpapers especially for this show, including one entirely of cosmos, a kind of mad, Spring Fever backdrop to his flowery wall paintings.

lbag.jpgEn route to the “Cosmos” room, visitors enter a real, Louis Vuitton boutique, where Murakami-designed limited edition bags are on display, and those still in production are for sale. If you’re offended by the thought of selling luxury goods within an exhibit, the experience of passing through the store, whose items are not for sale or priced way out of reach, completely jives with the museum’s look-but-don’t-touch feel. (The shop at the exhibit’s end features less expensive KaiKai KiKi goods, from mugs to stuffed animals to skateboard decks. If this too sounds crass, consider that Murakami’s intent is to create memories–which are easier to keep when you have a memento to hold on to.)

ko2.jpgThere is so much more to rave about the show–the classical Japanese traditions evident in 727, the Kanye West video, the grotesque, captivating Tan Tan Bo Puking a.k.a. Gero Tan, even the attempt to make the show kid friendly by placing wall text for children beside certain paintings (“How does Tan Tan Bo make you feel? Silly, scared, dreamy, strange…”), despite racy sculptures like Mission Project ko2 (pictured). But this is just an email, and the point of it is: see ©MURAKAMI before it closes July 13. And if you want to see it this Saturday, opening day, you should stay for the museum’s First Saturday party. brooklynmuseum.org

Detail of Super Nova, 1999, Courtesy of Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York ©1999 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

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