Gagosian’s West 24th Street gallery, never a place to prohibit bold and controversial artwork, is currently displaying Japanese art-hero Takashi Murakami’s latest exhibit In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow. This new major exhibition, comprised of paintings and sculptures, does not disappoint.
Murakami, frequently referred to as “the Japanese Andy Warhol,” is an artist consistently surrounded by controversy. He crosses boundaries, subsumes pop culture, and uses it to his advantage. He utilizes, employs and engages with the consumer world to infiltrate society with his art, all the while creating pieces based on contradictions: old techniques and new topics, religious undertones with secular subjects, etc.
Since the devastating Great Tohoku Earthquake of 2011, Murakami has explored Japanese art produced in response to historic natural disasters, including spiritual responses from the 1855 Great Asei Earthquake that gravely affected Tokyo. Subsequently, Murakami constructed an immersive installation that one enters via a fifty-six ton replica of a Japanese sacred gate with mythical lions, traditionally used to guard Japanese Buddhist temples.
Murakami has created a contemporary belief system, constructed in the aftermath of disaster, that is a perfect synthesis of various faiths, myths, images and the artist’s imagination. There are totemic sculptures embodied as demons, religious sites, and self-portraits, alongside paintings that merge classical Japanese techniques with Abstract Expressionist tropes, science-fiction, manga and Buddhist imagery.
Murakami is searching for the role of faith stemming from trauma, be it physical and/or emotional. The twenty-eight paintings and sculptures in the show are exactly what one has come to expect from Murakami’s work: bold, bright, crisp cartoons with goggle eyes. However, amidst all the superficial fluff is a troubled subtext, leading to a much more three-dimensional exhibition in theory and construct.