Paperhouse goes to see: © Murakami


Eyes right: Paperhouse just got a copyright notice. It’s all part of the steely new work ethic around here, and it’s there out of necessity (if I write for a living, I need to make at least a token effort to hold on to my assets) rather than desire. I’m not, in general, all that keen on copyright as it’s currently enforced. The laws on intellectual property feel badly out of kilter with the instant, no-cost systems of distribution available to every internet user. I don’t expect to be able to control how my words get shared – the most I hope for is that I’ll get credit where my work appears and a reasonable share of any profits deriving from those appearances. And as the interest in and profit deriving from old reviews of provincial theatre are pretty minimal, I don’t spend that much time fretting over my literary estate.

So last year when I went to see © Murakami at the Brooklyn Museum, I went as a bit of a © apostate. Japanese pop artist Takashi Murakami’s Murakami’s big idea is the ‘Super Flat’ aesthetic. His work goes across the distinctions between high and low culture, turning anime figures into gallery pieces and gallery pieces into mass-produced products. The idea has a democratic ring to it at first, founded on the idea that Japan has no hierarchy of high and low culture: the romantic insistence that art be shielded from commerce is alien.

Murakami’s work is gaudy, exhuberant, polished, piss-taking. The retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum dedicated the best part of an entire floor to him, whole rooms dedicated to the playing out of one theme of his canon. The imposing, glossy fibreglass figures – mostly involved in some sort of winking eroticism. The freakishish romper-suited double act, Kaikai and Kiki. And the charismatic and adaptable Mr DOB, who appears in pastiches of pretty much every genre of art you can imagine.


(Photo from Tingley’s flickr stream.) Murakami’s able to make a lot of art because, like any business-minded creator, he has an art factory: the Kaikai Kiki company, based in Tokyo and New York, produces, dictributes, promotes and manages the Murakami output. Which is where the © comes in to it. The work is Murakami’s, not because he made it, but because he originated it. The artistry is in the cultivation of the brand as imuch as the craftsmanship of the pieces. And that’s why it makes perfect sense that the centrepiece of the exhibition was a shop dedicated to Murakami’s LV collaboration, selling luxury handbags and silk scarves that floated over the upper reaches of affordability.

In Super Flat style, there was a second shop at the end vending the lower-order souvenirs: Mr DOB plushes, latex miniatures of the sculptures, cotton (rather than silk) scarves. Because Super Flat isn’t actually flat at all. The shock of seeing the rare rendered as ready-made and the pornographic mixing with the prestigious depends on the viewer hanging on to those distinctions in their own mind. Super Flat obviously doesn’t render all levels of culture equivalent, it delineates the markets and fits its product to the price point. The masterwork is making the reproducibility of the art part of its genius, so the hordes of clones add to the value rather than diluting it.


Obviously, I loved it and I bought scarf.