Graffiti Zombies in TOKYO

We started showing MADSAKI last year with a very well-received solo show, and we held one again this year, which also proved hugely popular. I love graffiti (as I have mentioned in my essay on MADSAKI’s show earlier) and for the past three years or so, I have been presenting exhibitions at my relatively small gallery called Hidari Zingaro in Nakano by inviting graffiti artists from outside Japan. This is because while I have always liked graffiti, I have felt that there was something off about Japanese graffiti. It felt, say, like an anime character drawn by a Westerner who loves Japanese anime; something superficially similar yet fundamentally different. I thought that a visual form can’t have substance on its own without the accompanying reality.

With MADSAKI’s work, too, at first I found it light in substance, like an illustration parody that is quintessentially Japanese, but I bought a painting anyway hearing that he was a friend of Rei, my studio assistant in NY at the time. It was a Matisse rip-off. Even though MADSAKI was feigning logic, calling the work part of Wannabe series or some such, it felt light all the same. But I thought, why not?
When I hang the piece for the first time on a white wall on the occasion of my collection show at the Yokohama Museum of Art, however, it wasn’t half bad. It was received quite well, in fact, and I heard multiple comments and questions: “I like that pseudo-Matisse,” and “How much did it cost?”

In person, MADSAKI is extremely frank and personable, so after he told me various anecdotes about his past, I got interested enough to plan his show at my gallery. The first one was on the said Wannabe series, so it was a continuation on the rip-off theme. But I thought it boring for him to just rip off masterpieces, so I scrolled through his Instagram posts for clues, and saw that he was posting famous scenes from the American ‘80s films, such as Beverley Hills Cop, Scarface, and Yoda from Star Wars. In addition, he was frequently posting the photos of his indisputably good-looking wife, so I suggested that he paint his wife if he likes her so much, and while at it, do a series with her in traditional Japanese clothing a la Araki photographs to appeal to the overseas audience. He subsequently went for a location shoot with his wife at some traditional Japanese inn, projected the photos on canvas, and made spray painted works.

I, on my part, thought these might constitute a groundbreaking invention in the long history of Japanese graffiti that had always borrowed from overseas. They were no longer graffitis, yet of course they weren’t anything academic, either. You couldn’t make heads or tails of them, yet what was painted was purely good; the works sold.
What an amazing invention this was! Let me say that the idea came from me. Me = Takashi Murakami. Hahaha.
But of course at the base of these works were MADSAKI’s personal past, for example of being bullied in New Jersey during his elementary school years and of being a “returnee” (someone who spends part of their upbringing abroad before returning to Japan and entering the Japanese school system) in Japan, or his feelings behind the photos he uploaded on Instagram. So in a sense I am to him as an editor is to a manga artist.

As we went on, I started to get carried away by this collaboration with MADSAKI and asked him to paint my flower characters in his style. I then photographed it, scanned it, adjusted the compositions and forms in the data, and released it as my work. This has also been a hit. (I’m paying royalty to MADASKI by the way! It’s not an exploitation, mind you!)

Subsequently for my solo show in Chicago, I made a strange new sculpture the likes of which I had never made before, and asked MADSAKI to cover it with his graffiti to commemorate his time in the United States, Chicago being one of the major graffiti meccas. He in turn brought on snipe1, his long-time friend, who apparently can no longer enter the United States because he had illegally overstayed in the country multiple times for various reasons. The resulting piece, painted by these two artists, was also definitely a surefire for me. It was an imitation of the ‘90s American graffiti, and yet the fact these two bombed the sculpture of an artist who is being allowed to survive in the American contemporary art scene with the manga-like style seemed to embody the on-going infighting of the Japanese cultural elites. It was awesome in that it exuded internal strife. We could certainly call this proper Japanese graffiti.

After he has had some success, I asked MADSAKI to organize a group show, and he is now planning a three-persons show for snipe1, UFO 907, and himself. UFO 907 was MADSAKI’s roommate when they were art university students in the ‘90s. The former, who maintain a strong friendship with the latter, was supposedly disliked by other writers for his childish style early on, and once came home to their shared apartment with his face ashen after being chased by a gun-toting writer.

Graffiti, which started out as a criminal act, may have lost its significance now that museums and governments are increasingly supporting it as an art form. In my mind, MADSAKI and I have succeeded in summoning the graffiti zombies through necromancy of a sort.

And now, coming up next is this exhibition, Graffiti Zombies in TOKYO.

Takashi Murakami

グラフィティ ゾンビ in TOKYO




で、幾つかの成功例が出来たMADSAKIさんに、今度は、グループ展きかくしてみて、と言ったら、先のすないぷ君(snipe1)と、ゆーふぉー君(UFO 907)というのと、3人での展覧会が良いということで組閣してくれている。
ゆーふぉー君(UFO 907)さんはMADSAKIさんが1990年代の美大の学生時代からのルームメイト。

グラフィティ ゾンビ in TOKYO

村上 隆



8月 2017
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