5.0 out of 5 stars Beyond Superflat
Most people think of Japanese art as either the woodblock prints of the Edo period or modern manga. It appears that this is entirely appropriates, as modern Japanese art is some sort of strange marriage of the two.
I saw Murakami Takashi’s “Superflat” exhibition in Seattle in 2001. At the time, I was shocked at how deeply anime and manga culture had shaped modern Japanese art. Although American comic books had some influence on fine art during the 1950s Pop Art movement and especially with artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, this was a whole different level. This was not just a self-conscious and ironic blending of high and low art. This was removing all barriers between the two, elevating art created for popular consumption to the level of gallery exhibition.
“Warriors of Art” shows that Murakami’s Superflat Manifesto is very much alive, and dominating the Japanese art scene. Many of the young artists in this book have been hand-picked by Murakami, molded and shaped into his image. You can see his name all over the artist’s profiles. But Murakami and his proteges are only continuing a tradition. The mix of child/adult sexuality, the erotic/grotesque imagery, even the heavy black line and bright colors, are all carried over from periods of Japanese art hundreds of years earlier.
Not that everyone in “Warriors of Art” comes from Murakami’s school. Some, like Nara Yoshiitomo, are heavy hitters in their own right. Nara’s paintings have been featured on CD covers for the band Shonen Knife, and have been exhibited all over the world. Others, like photographers Sawada Tomoko, Suzuki Ryoko, Yanagi Miwa and Morimura Yasumasa, all seem to be heavily influenced by Cindy Sherman with her self-portraits in various identities. It was interesting to note that, while this influence is readily apparent to anyone who has studied Art History, it was not commented on in the book.
Contemporary Japanese art is also influencing contemporary world art. One thing that can been seen amongst the works of various artists in “Warriors of Art” is the Japanese tendency to create characters, and to use these characters repetitiously in their works. Graffiti artist Banksy has adopted this motif, learning that the repetition of familiarity allows an instant entrance for viewers who might otherwise be put off by the discordant imagery. Some of these characters take on a life of their own, as Okazaki Takashi’s “Afro Samurai” was later used as the basis for an animated series and a live-action film.
My personal favorite pieces in “Warriors of Art” where the ones that combine multiple influences, such as Aida Makoto’s “The Giant Member Fuji versus King Gidora” which re-creates Hokusai Katsushika’s infamous print “The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife” recasting it with Ultraman heroin Fuji Akiko and Godzilla’s nemesis King Gidora. Tabaimo’s piece “public conVENience” makes the wholly appropriate comparison of the internet to public restrooms. Both are places entirely open to the public, yet within very private and personal activities take place.