Published: LONDON CONFIDENTIAL, 2nd August 2011
STANDING in the anesthetically pristine space of Gagosian’s Britannia Street gallery, two achingly large breasts bulge and loom above my head.
Nipples covered in smooth white material, both fleshy sandbags strapped together with a garishly purple belt. So voluminous are they, the lithe body supporting them threatens to topple dangerously under their weight.
At five foot ten, I have to admit, looking at such objects from below is a novel experience. Rarely do I feel dwarfed by a pair of female mammary glands. I certainly have never felt Lilliputian by a pair resembling computer animation come to life. Large enough they could flatten me into a pancake.
But this is the artwork of Takashi Murakami, popular Japanese artist extraordinaire. Whose smiling flowers adorn limited edition handbags; who covered a condom packet in precious stones in collaboration with Pharrell Williams in 2009; who placed an anime style sculpture of a squat naked king in the coronation room at Versailles. An act that, of course, met with French public outcry, but was somewhat genius in my opinion. A larger culture clash would be difficult to find.
I don’t know why I expected anything less.
‘3m Girl’ (2011), made from fiberglass reinforced plastic and steel, is the artwork in question. A towering, hideous display of cartoon fetishism: red high heels, stockings, tightened straps, dog collar, pointed gem riddled nails. All are present; as large spangled eyes and a miniature nose bend down to greet you.
No one has ever accused Murakami of being subtle. This is a work, like all the others in the room, which shouts its subject matter loud and clear.
Sex and fantasy anyone? We’ve got it in spades.
In the past I’ve always found Murakami’s work incredibly entertaining. He has a sense of humour, without doubt. Anyone who titles a seriously polished and incredibly large sculpture of a gold penis, ‘Mr. Big Mushroom’, and a matching gargantuan silver vagina, ‘Mrs. Clam’ (both 2011). Each of their fronts are adorned with smiling faces resembling Pac-Man, which are guaranteed to bring on a smile.
But beyond this light entertainment, (the laughs are often easy ones), his work seems somewhat hollow. It’s the same feeling with the work of artist Jeff Koons, to which Murakami is constantly compared. Reproducing everyday objects on a grand scale or many times over is all very well. My magpie instinct can happily find enjoyment in Koon’s giant metallic balloons for a time. But then what? Usually one walks away profoundly unaffected.
Takashi Murakami’s work at the Gagosian show failed to alter my opinion. As spectator I felt respect, occasional delight, but also dissatisfaction.
Respect because with Murakami’s work comes technical brilliance. Standing in front of ‘Nurse Ko2’ (2011), a life-size three-dimensional sculpture of a scantily clad nurse, cross-shaped, blood-filled syringe in hand, is to experience the uncanny valley in reverse. So much like a computer animation does she appear, your eyes can trick you into momentarily believing that she is in fact two-dimensional: a visual slippage both unnerving and impressive.
Delight in ridiculous moments: staring up a giant matron’s frilly skirt, her knickers wedged between two stupidly spherical buttocks, for example, while in the serious environment of a contemporary gallery. Murakami’s work is a colourful, fiberglass assault on the eyes: garish, playful, frequently bordering on ludicrous.
Disappointment due to lack of profundity: these renditions of cartoon sexual fantasies, with tiny, slender proportions and large, violet-coloured, doe eyes, titillate, but to little effect and say little in return. If the show makes any comment at all, it is on societies long held desire for unrealistic, pornographic imagery.
By adopting, in two paintings entitled ‘Shunga: Gibbons’ and ‘Shunga: Bow Wow’ (both 2010), the erupting, vein bursting, members found in Shunga, a style of Japanese erotic art that reached its peak of popularity in the Edo period (commonly dated between 1603 and 1868), Murakami reminds that sexual art of the past has flung the stone as far from reality as the similarly phantasmal and illusory images of the contemporary Japanese graphics his work most frequently employs.
But this is hardly a groundbreaking exposition on sexual desires or the sex industry.
In moments of cynicism, especially remembering that Gagosian is a power force of a commercial gallery, this show can seem to merely audaciously play into the hands of Murakami’s large army of collectors. Murakami’s work sells extremely well; his supposedly erotic work, even better. ‘My Lonesome Cowboy’, for example, sold at auction in 2008 for a whopping fifteen million.
Works that prompt deep contemplation you will not find at Gagosian; a laugh you may. If Murakami wishes to provoke, he fails to do so. The pornographic nature of the work is never shocking. His work is art of ambivalence.
June 27th – August 5th, 2011
6 – 24 Britannia Street
Tues – Sat: 10am – 6pm