The first thing that strikes me about © Murakami is how blatantly familiar everything seems. Anyone accustomed to Japanese or anime culture may find © Murakami unremarkable. Life-size sculptures of transforming robots — aside from their explicit sexuality — could probably be found in the markets of Ginza in so many vending machines . (at least in my imagined Japan. I’ve never been ) the murals painted on giant canvases hanging in the Brooklyn Museum look sort of like vector graphics some hippy drew for his blog. The real remarkable thing about seeing all this work up close is how utterly unremarkable it is.  Murakami deals in the realm of pop culture.

The images we see in the galleries are the same ones we see littered across the net and in hip magazines and really that’s the point. Murakami like Warhol before him (and to whom Murakami is frequently compared) revels in the icons and symbols of a over marketed overly bright overwhelming culture. Standing a few inches from an encompassing ten foot canvas some degree of skill can be ascertained. There appear to be no brush strokes and the gigantic eyes whose pupils descend to a point of paint less than a centimeter wide speak to a skilled attempt at reproduction.  

Whether Murakami painted this or his team does not matter. The point is that a great amount of care went into getting the color just so — at the very least more difficult than selecting the paint bucket tool and clicking on the box. For some of the murals the museum has put up studies of their plans not sketched in an Adobe app as one might assume but hand drawn in pencil and laid in with cryptic codes indicating the exact shade to be used for the coordinate on the finished product.

Meticulous detail to attain a throwaway look. A mural of magic mushrooms gives way to a canvas displaying Louis Vuitton logos.  Is this an advertisement? Is it art? The great thing is that its impossible to distinguish the line. The Louis Vuitton canvases hang a room over from a display case of Louis Vuitton bags. Looking around one may not notice that they’ve stepped out of a gallery and into a shop. A Louis Vuitton boutique is centered in the exhibit further blurring the lines of commercialism and art. When asked by my friend of the success of the store the shop woman said they do quite well. Just as well as a “real boutique”.

Several other displays showcase cups, magnets, pins and dolls all of which are for sale later on at the end of the exhibit. When you purchase a toy model of the exhibit are you purchasing a reproduction or are you participating in the show itself? Is this exhibit about commodity or is commodity itself the art? The fact that these questions can be posed at all prove the existence of the blur that pervades Murakami’s work. A few rooms are literally painted wall to wall with anime style colors and characters. In a room surrounded by smiling rainbow colored flowers I felt overwhelmed. Perhaps this is a comment on the over-saturation of consumer/cute culture. If it is commentary its still also celebrating it and all done with a tremendous amount of skill.

All of this blurring has my head dizzy but I’m smiling. The question “is this art?â€? is still ringing through my brain. What © Murakami proves is that art, at least gallery art, is defined purely by its frame. Take any high-end purse vendor on Fifth Avenue and place his/her shop in the halls of a museum and patrons have to focus on it. Not only the displays but the activity of commodity exchange and our willing participation in it. At once overwhelming, cool, cute. To comment on it is not just to comment on an art exhibit but also to comment on Japanese society and by extension any capitalist culture. Art is bought and sold every day and it exists as a commodity as much as it exists as an aesthetic practice or beautiful artifact. © Murkami draws attention to this while, presumably, making a handsome profit and we are all willing participants. Whether we choose to ignore it or not.

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