The Andy Warhol of our time

Contemporary Japanese artist Takashi Murakami has created more than just a few images and notable sculptures in his career – he has created a brand. Through his adaptation of his art into commercial media he has been able to expand his repertoire into an area that resonates with Japanese youth like few other artists. Murakami has done this by blending both commonly accepted (and more traditional) “high art” (unreachable to most) with the Japanese “low” culture, which incorporates images, making it more accessible to the broader population.

Takashi Murakami’s images use bright, glossy and saturated colors as his focal point. His work has sometimes been likened to Andy Warhol’s. The use of “manga” iconography has resonated with much of Japanese youth because it refers to the cult following of Japanese cartoons and video games.

These images are at once graphic and bold, making them immensely popular and eminently marketable. Murakami then adds a twist by installing a disturbing quality – making them more provocative and fanciful. In fact, Murakami has expanded his fan base throughout Japan because of his ability to create merchandise of his work. His work is sometimes widely thought of as a brand– Murakami art images can be found on such commercial items as toys, mousepads, t-shirts and keychains.

The successful evolution of Murakami’s art into a commercialized brand has led to other opportunities of expansion of the Murakami brand. His work with the luxury house Louis Vuitton began when Murakami contributed some of his artwork which was used in a series of handbag designs. He re-envisioned Vuitton’s signature iconic monogram, which was a huge success for the fashion house. He had also worked with Issey Miyake and did a sculpture collaboration with Pharrell Williams.

Murakami is widely known for his theory of “superflat” in which he posits that differences in post-war Japanese social class and popular taste have “flattened”, resulting in a newer culture which sees little distinction between high and low art (art as consumerism). All this relates directly to Murakami’s practice of re-packaging “low” elements into his works for the high art markets. Then, these high art works are subsequently re-packaged yet again into the low art arena of merchandise – toys and t-shirts – which are more affordable to the populace. For instance, one of Murakami’s sculptures can fetch millions of dollars but the same object repeated on a keychain is worth very little.

Murakami’s art has proven to be both commercial and worthy of attention from the world of fine art – a rarity in that world.