below is a condensed version of the original story.
On any given day, Takashi Murakami — the Pop Art juggernaut who has been called, for better or for worse, “The Japanese Andy Warhol” — is likely in his main studio in Tokyo, which never closes. From there, he oversees the creation of new art pieces and exhibitions. He checks Instagram, where he discovers emerging artists, shares works in progress, and, of course, posts selfies. He messages friends and associates on Facebook when he can’t reach them by email. He routinely adjusts his signature, round glasses, plays with his dog, Pom, and makes a lot of jokes.
Despite Murakami’s lighthearted, eccentric demeanor, there’s real fatigue in running a 24-hour operation rooted in five cities (Tokyo, Kyoto, Sapporo, New York, and Seattle) with around 200 employees total. “My company, Kaikai Kiki, is unique, because it’s an art business,” Murakami says through a translator. “I had to find out how to do this by myself. Sometimes, it’s a big headache, but I’m proud to have survived the past 20 years of making and running a company.”
Through Kaikai Kiki, there is seemingly no medium that Murakami hasn’t touched, from painting, sculpture, animation, and film, to complex installations and performance art. He hasn’t shied away from external collaboration, either; he’s made Louis Vuitton bags and Vans slip-ons, designed Next 5 sake bottles and Supreme skateboard decks, created paintings with fellow artists KAWS and Damien Hirst, and animated music videos for Kanye West and Pharrell.
The unique appeal of Murakami’s work is best understood by considering a term Murakami himself coined in the early ‘90s for his creative output, “SUPERFLAT,” which refers to the merging (or “flattening”) of “high” and “low” culture in postwar Japan. It’s the foundation from which to understand his low-inspired works, some of which sell for tens of millions of dollars; it also helps to contextualize, conversely, his high art translated onto keychains and T-shirts.
Despite the demands of his rapid success and his ever-bustling studios, Murakami has made a concerted effort to continually curate exhibitions and mentor young Japanese artists. “I don’t always enjoy curating, but I do believe it’s part of my job,” says Murakami, who handpicks the artists that exhibit at his four galleries in Tokyo. “It’s a good exercise for my brain, like warming up. Just focusing on my work would be so depressing! For me, curating is necessary. It’s like physical training.”
Murakami has recently focused his curation talents on the histories and contemporary dilemmas of two mediums: graffiti and ceramics. He exhibits the work of artists with roots in graffiti, such as James Jean, and even used graffiti on top of his own paintings in a 2014 exhibition at Gagosian Gallery. For that, he sprayed words like “Hollow” and “Death” onto bright canvases covered in flowers and skulls.
“In the beginning of graffiti, artists were painting walls to find their freedom, like social hacking,” says Murakami. “A lot of new graffiti artists are more interested in making money, not creating a bridge with their work. For this reason, I’ve started curating the work of Japanese ceramic artists, too. They don’t have the same commercial interests. For them, making ceramics is like breathing. Whenever these artists make something, I find that it’s very pure.”
Photography: Claire Dorn
Cover Collage: Geoff J. Kim
Editor: Steve Dool
Artwork: © 2016 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd., All Rights Reserved