CCTP-725: Week 9 Discussion

International Post-Pop, Anime, Hybrid SF

Murakami's QR Code for Vuitton

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Jessica Gesund, Erin Osterhaus, and Zachary Allard


Manga and Anime are hybrid forms that exist on a trans-cultural plane in spite of their association and “origins” (whatever that fallacious concept means) in Japan. Manga refers to the drawn comics that have been evolving out of Japanese art since the nineteenth century. Anime in Japan refers to any film or television show that has been animated, but in the West, at least, it commonly refers to animation originating in Japan. Anime’s roots go back as far as 1917, but it only began to develop as the medium we recognize today in the years following World War II. Emerging in the decades when Japan was undergoing rapid change: simultaneously modernizing while maintaining a strong sense of cultural identity in the face of avalanching globlaization. Anime and manga do mirror that tectonic cultural change. My focus shall be on Anime, primarily, as the material reflects. It is a distinctly post-modern and post-pop style that borrows, exaggerates, and resists all easy categorization by its sheer breadth. Anime is no mere genre; it contains within its scope most genres we would recognize in Western cinema. Anime stands as a fascinating and incredibly successful (commercially and critically) example of international post-modern, post-pop.external image SiOvU0CVkQm71aXRA913AtmmdST6b6C8z1ME_6CPvxnwRPx8901jQ-I35Oj7YNhU7eN6E8WRpkJxKv9aumbzg5u3pgGcQG3BTe77Vwrvif2fPAbg4gexternal image moweWnvYaDDJsSOOCfAV-GFK8IC5T4BBQJcnecTAfAcAF8VaxiYA3gJmUyLcKFM5XFlADXRUu569SlShTrfJ64b1Fk5iTf6tdLaqNfRZ95upaNUzgQ

Anime even has hybrid “origins.” It emerged (as we know it today) deeply influenced by the animation of Walt Disney and such films as Snow White. So from its very inception, Anime was a medium with global roots, a hybrid. Today, stories may start in anime or manga or video games or even live action films (as with the series Death Note) and be adapted across all mediums many times in many ways. There is a porousness between these mediums that again speaks to its hybridity.

As I noted, anime today is no mere genre the way animated films in the U.S. are. Because it is not viewed as simply “children’s entertainment,” it incorporates as many genres as films in the West do. The film, Ghost in the Shell, uses the steam-punk dystopia of Blade Runner which would again be cribbed by The Matrix. Spirited Away, is a retelling of the English classic, Alice in Wonderland as already filtered through Disney. The acclaimed anime series, Cowboy Bebop, incorporates many, many elements from American cinema including the Western(obviously), film noir, action films, and sci-fi to create something entirely new. In fact, its more-structured plotting mirrors Western film-making more than a lot of its less-structured Japanese contemporaries. This show in turn had a strong influence on the short-lived but superb American show, Firefly.

This firefight is also incredibly similar to the one in El Mariachi

Clearly, this is a medium that is strongly intercultural in nature. It was born out in the context of Western influences and has grown into a flexible medium that is simultaneously influenced by the West and now influences the West back, so to speak, with media like Firefly and The Matrix. Nowadays, anime is made in other countries in Asia like China and Korea and the medium even has scions in Europe and America as well. Anime made in Japan by Japanese artists often has frames drawn by Korean or Chinese “in-betweeners.” It is influenced by and influences everything. It is a definitively post-modern mish-mash of East and West and disparate genres and cultures to create something new.

At the risk of generalizing, there are some common themes that run through anime. Extreme violence and hyper-sexuality are typical in anime (at least anime for adults). Stylization and fantasy are commonplace even among anime that is less extreme than some of the notorious “tentacle-porn” films. Drawing on research I did last semester for a project about adaptation, there are a number of reasons that anime films are allowed to explore the fantasies of hyper-sexuality/violence more fully than more conventional narrative genres.

Sexy, sexy violence
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The drawn image is not any less truthful (in reality) than the photographic image. However, their reception (even today) is still different. The viewer still ascribes more realism to the photographic image than the drawn one. Even if the viewer understands the absolute illusion of the photographic image, it still appears to have a more necessary relation to reality. This is apparent in everything from comic books to Looney Tunes. It is seen as “acceptable” to allow children to watch the stylized violence of Bugs Bunny and Wile E. Coyote because it is animated. However, it would be seen (perhaps rightly) as quite disturbing (especially for children) to watch such violence in a live-action short. An excellent example of this would be the anime segment from Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1. The rest of the film is live-action, except for this sequence. Aside from being a wonderfully post-modern break from the ersatz reality of live-action, the sequence also allows Tarantino to enter remarkably dark territory by having a child murder her molester and his goons. It is a scene that would be difficult to accept--unless it was animated. Really disturbing if you think about it...

Anime is able to explore the fetishization of violence and sexuality in a medium that is allowed stylization because of its overt detachment from any kind of reality. It has become a place where fantasy can be explored. What’s most interesting, perhaps, about anime is that it is steeped in this fantasy while simultaneously being deeply intercultural in nature. There is almost certainly some significance to be found here with its fetishization of sex and violence and extremes writ large. Is it perhaps some of sort of universal reflection/simulacrum/hyper-real realization of the lusts and fetishes that transcend culture?
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Manga- Hybridization from the Non-West to the Rest


Like Anime modern Manga was developed in Japan during the period of American occupation during World War II, although it is believe that versions of Manga already existed before that. While some historians and writers have argued that Manga was greatly influenced by American comic strips, like anime, these Japanese comics have had a great influence in comic strips in Europe, The United States and other Asian countries like China and Korea during the recent years. Thus like Anime it has turned into a hybridized phenomena. From an intercultural communications perspective, cases such as the cases of Manga and Anime are interesting to examine in that they illustrate a cultural model of communications where a Non-Western cultural product has been able to achieve great success and has been incorporated into the Western local cultures, rather than the other way around as theories of cultural imperialism argue. While until the 90’s anime like Pokemon and Dragon Ball had a better adoption in the United States, this has changed during the recent years, with Manga such as “Ghost in The Shell” and “Sailor Moon” which have become great international successes. They have inspired both Comic books and animations throughout the world, and in the case of “Ghost in the Shell” inspired ticket-box successes like the Matrix trilogies. Moreover these illustrative stories are already being incorporated into the newspapers of different cities throughout the United States and even into magazines like Cosmopolitan. Like Caroline Memmott argues in USA Today, they are each time being given more space in local bookstores.


-What is the significance of intercultural realizations of hyper-sexuality and violence?

-Are there any?

-What genre is appleseed ex machina, really? It doesn’t fit neatly into traditional conceptions of

anime or anything else for that matter, incorporating mo-cap and 3-d syle animation it’s really something new entirely

-Does anime have a sexist streak within its hyper-sexuality and hyper-realizations of the female body?

-If so, is it any different than the lurid advertising commonplace in the West?

Murakami: A Background
Murakami, while notable for his artistic creations, is even more remarkable for his theories behind it. After pursuing a PhD in nihonga, a traditional style of Japanese painting, he became disillusioned. For Murakami, nihonga had little cultural relevance in contemporary Japan. The art forms of manga and anime, however, did. As a result of these influences, Murakami more or less founded an entire art movement known as ‘superflat’ in English.external image DIjYjWD-vWm-scIWXh77RLmU557nH4XI_OyfZqFWEb0BUon_hx88lVg73hbuOUcAahfgOx1rIGTK6DO4JfiMXp9ktmhsE7kBJOhwy6AqSsygUwaoPTw

Theories/Connection to Pop

Superflat was a term coined by Murakami to explain his work, and which later came to be a term used to explain the evolution of fine art in all of Japan. It is a “manifesto on the way various forms of graphic design, pop culture and fine arts are compressed—flattened—in Japan.” It is a term which derives from the two-dimensionality of traditional Japanese painting, and now is used to denote a mix of high and low art. It is in this ‘low art’ aspect of superflat which we can most easily see Murakami’s connection to Warhol and the Pop-art world in general. As Warhol used ‘low’ art—advertising and everyday items—to blast his way into the high art world, so too does Murakami. As Warhol worked in a factory, so too does Murakami. He actually lives in his Hiropon factory, located outside of Tokyo. As Warhol desired fame, so too did Murakami. Although the methods behind their madness may be similar, the theories motivating their work are quite distinct.

One key difference between the Warhol and Murakami is their perception of high and low art. While Warhol took from the low to give to the high, Murakami takes from the low, and gives to “the high, the low, and everything in between” (Two Faces of Murakami). As he himself states, there is no distinction between high and low art in Japan. One journalist remarks upon this when he observes “…an art museum was displaying luggage, a luggage shop was exhibiting art, an artist had developed a branding campaign—and nobody thought anything out of the ordinary” (Murakami Method). This lack of distinction between forms is one of Murakami’s most strongly held convictions. For him, the distinction between popular and fine art is completely un-Japanese.external image pz_zPIalclg-2wBWyzlGMC1qgm4uuU_CSw_vnoVRnw77n7waRlI0YRPp_KyA5MfqiEBcjLyHw9uCNns69Z8hW1eMCDnS26WCmyuFokiGHrfSma7s3WQ

Roots of Japanese Aesthetics
So where does this great equality of art stem from? Murakami would argue that it is a result of World War II. Murakami attributes the lack of fine art in Japan to the ‘classless society’ Japan set out to create after its unconditional surrender at the end of WWII. In the postwar democracy, everybody became equal, or at least that was the illusion—for a long time, 90% of the Japanese considered themselves ‘middle-class’” (Murakami Guide to Success).

The end of the war created an environment in which the distinction between high and low was abolished, but it also greatly influenced the content of the art that was produced. Japan suffered terrible material, human and spiritual losses in the war, but although it suffered these agonies at the hands of its Western victors, it also became dependent on the victors. Western products and values began to saturate Japanese society. However, as a result of the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a feeling of vulnerability and weakness continued unabated. Murakami argues that it was this feeling of impotence, which influenced the (sometimes) toxic cuteness that has become the trademark of Japanese art.

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Little Boy
In Little Boy, the final installment of the superflat trilogy, Murakami explores how

“the replacement of a traditional, hierarchical Japanese culture with a disposable consumer culture ostensibly produced for children and adolescents” has affected the course of Japanese art (Little Boy). He draws on historical events—chief among them the devastation of the atomic bomb—in order to explain the creation of otaku, a Japanese subculture obsessed with manga and anime, as well as the Neo-pop movement in contemporary art. Children’s cartoons that ended every episode with a nuclear explosion, the obsession with schoolgirl sexuality, and an overabundance of general cuteness are, according to Murakami, an effort to distance Japanese society from “…the real horrors of war, and can be seen as a symptomatic retreat from an honest reckoning with the ravages of WWII and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki” (Plumbing the Depths of Superflatness). Japan therefore seems to have retreated to a childish sensibility to deal with past atrocities, and Murakami has expertly displayed the visual evidence to back up his theories.

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Murakami’s Vision
Murakami has utilized the state of the Japanese art world, and Japan’s past, to create his own art empire. He has utilized the manga and anime art prevalent in Japan–founded in the wake of WWII and greatly influenced by Western sensibilities—to create his own version of popular culture. He has drawn on the media, entertainment and consumption, as well as Japan’s unique past, to create his own art movement. While connections to Pop and Andy Warhol are obvious—art as business (see Louis Vuitton bags)—Murakami does not approach his craft with the same ironic detachment, the same carelessness, that his predecessors in the Pop movement did. He digs deep into his culture and his past, and the result is a deceptively superficial body of work. While the art might seem shallow, there is a surprising depth behind its conception.

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Questions Superflat attempts to answer
What is free expression?

What is Japan?

What is the nature of the period I live in?

Super flatness as a Socio-Economic Response

While departing from the pop-art tradition by using methods of mass production to create his art and incorporating mass culture imagery such as cartoons and consumer products , there are two additional factors which reflect the Japanization of Murakami’s art, and which allow us to place Murakami’s art within Japan’s cultural context. As Murakami himself expresses he began producing this art during a period when new generations were for the first time facing economic uncertainty since the 50’s and the “long celebration of consumerism [that prevailed in Japan].. turned into a critique”( Dohojwska, 3). Moreover Japanese people were getting fed up with TV and mass media, which no longer fulfilled them like they did in the 80’s when he claims ‘people really didn’t think about the meaning of life because of the strong consumer culture’. During this period, instead they began to see these media as “looking only [at] one direction’. The previously explained super-flat concept emerges as a result to this as well. Superflat artists, he says, are able to ‘create their own version of popular culture to draw attention to the dominance of the media’ and draw attention to the new acquired cognition of the shallowness of this popular culture. The flatness of their art thus becomes a metaphor through which they construct this. As previously mentioned it is in this negative conception of mass culture that Murakami’s art differentiates itself from the previous pop-art movement.

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Murakami’s Art as a Reflection of Japan’s Hibridized Culture

Moreover according to Saltz, by borrowing from the culturally and stylistically varied art and media products Murakami’s art is able to reflect the hybridized character of the Japanese society itself, a society that despite its presumed closed character when it comes to other cultures, posses a culture which has consistently influenced and modified by external cultures such as the Chinese culture and more recently by Western culture.

Branding and Appropriation: © MURAKAMI

Based on what we’ve discussed so far, Takashi Murakami is the poster child of cultural hybridity. He brings together high and low subject matter, canonical and contemporary art, and the commercial and gallery cultures. In Imitation Warhol, Jerry Saltz notes that Murakami " began his career as a consumer-oriented artist in search of a product, an art object to call his own.” The “object” that Murakami eventually grew into is impregnated with brand imagery and allusions to the traditions of both Western Pop and painting from the Japanese Edo period (1603-1868). This combination is a hybrid in itself – while marketing by definition aims to reach the greatest possible population, the art world is often criticized as too opaque or academic.
Despite the seemingly meaningless, vacuous nature of Murakami’s work and the “Superflat” style he champions, much of his oeuvre relies on major artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. His 2005 painting, “Eye Love Superflat” has a consistent “all over” aesthetic first developed by the action painters of the Abstract Expressionist movement. Further, the distinct separation of color and patterning suggests the portraiture of Chuck Close, whose distinct style depends on a similar deconstruction. And didn't the idea of flattening space belong to the Post Impressionists? In our hyper-connected, globalized world, nothing is distinct to anywhere anymore.

Murakami, "Eye Love Superflat", 2005
Murakami, "Eye Love Superflat", 2005

Pollock, "Lavender Mist", 1950
Pollock, "Lavender Mist", 1950

Close, "Self Portrait", 1997
Close, "Self Portrait", 1997

While clearly indebted to 20th century Americans, Murakami also borrows heavily from the Edo period. His seemingly multi-paneled “Contact” actually acrylic on canvas, but it recalls the folding screens that are so indicative of traditional Japanese painting.
Murakami, "Contact", 2000

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Aislin, cartoon in the Montreal Gazette, 2011
Aislin, cartoon in the Montreal Gazette, 2011
On a topical note, Murakami’s celebrity and technique of appropriation has clearly penetrated visual culture outside of Japan, as seen in these cartoons which recycle Hokusai’s iconic “Great Wave” to express the tragedy of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.
Eric Enright, "Tsunami", 2011
Eric Enright, "Tsunami", 2011

MOCA’s 2008 Murakami restrospective shows that his interest in creating a Japanese Pop art goes beyond imagery; like Warhol, he attempts to create a distinct brand image for himself. Before being an artist, he is a commercial enterprise. Marc Jacobs spoke to this distinction in the video where he discusses the artist’s and fashion house Louis Vuitton’s collaboration. He speaks of the “icons of Takashi” and “icons of Louis Vuitton”, as opposed to imagery or symbolism, equating the two as highly branded entities. This phenomenon – turning art into enterprise – is also evident in the MOCA's video coverage of the creation of Oval Buddha. This societal marketing plan creates consumer desire for a work just as a movie preview convinces an audience that they need to buy tickets for an upcoming blockbuster. Murakami even has a logo – © MURAKAMI – where, as Saltz says, “this little c says a lot”.

-Liz Kneuer

SAARET YOSEPH: Anime and Manga culture offers a counter-perspective to our cultural hybridity discussions as we learn about the trajectory of globalization and its historical ADD. The Otaku subculture is uniquely Japanese, European-bred and American-fed. Considering Takashi Murakami’s works as a metaphor for this convergence makes his art-in-jest approach strangely significant. A curious back and forth between surface truth and buried illusion is ingrained in the hyper-reality of Murakami’s “superflat” send-ups. Like Warhol, his artwork is an enigmatic blend of exacted commercialism. Referential and fantastic. Over-the-top and inquisitive.

Murakumi, "Hiropon," 1997

Perhaps, that's why Kanye West employed Murakami's skills for his Graduation album:

While the New York Times articles included in this week’s readings situated Marakumi and Japanese art within American popular thought, it was interesting to read about the different images or depictions fetishized in each culture. For example, as Darling writes in Art Journal, Americans have more of a fascination with “illusionistic reality” while the Japanese traditionally favor 2D animation. In addition to stylistic preferences, space is also relative. Marakumi’s belief that “demarcations between fine art and popular merchandise are completely un-Japanese” assumes a less revolutionary reception of his work in Japan. However, in America, where fine art is contained to gallery and museum settings, Louis Vuitton becomes political.

The QR code that Marakumi recently designed, further -- and quite literally -- inserts his art in the marketplace.

by Alicia Dillon

For Murakami, and the superflat movement, art is meant to engage both Japanese culture as well as the Art World; sustaining a unique multifaceted dialogue which plays with the possibilities of aesthetics. At first glance one would assume the content of, the smiling, over exaggerated expressions and colors of the pieces (referencing the rampant kawaii, or cute, movement in Japan) to be benign, however they soon reveal a often highly perverse form, a cynical irony. To be certain, in the superflat movement, Warholian humor is not lost.
As a method for contextualizing this work, I see addressing Japanese Pop as it is in dialogue with Pop as a whole, and then specifically moving to address Murakami’s solo retrospective at MOCA in Los Angeles as a productive strategy for analysis.

View of Murakami's 'Collaboration Addition' room at Tate
View of Murakami's 'Collaboration Addition' room at Tate

Much in the same way street art is activated within each distinctive space (street, gallery, market), Pop is activated and understood in similar ways. For instance, Tate Modern’s exhibit “Pop Life, Art in a Material World” engaged Murakami’s work on an art historical level, dealing directly with the institution and placing it in conversation with artists such as Warhol, Koons, and Damien Hirst just to name a few. The exhibit proved most interesting for it’s progressive dialogue-- looking at Warhol’s style and humor as iterated in the arts today. Moreover, it was as much concerned with addressing the history of Pop as it was with artists engaging the idea of consumption, with featured pieces such as Andrea Fraiser’s video were her piece features footage from the artist filming herself having sex with an art dealer, therefore presenting herself as commodity. An interesting concept to apply to the present applications of Pop (style and sensibility) and the Japanese superflat movement, Fraiser is quoted as stating:

'All of my work is about what we want from art, what collectors want, what artists want from collectors, what museum audiences want... not only economically, but in more personal, psychological and affective terms'

A highlight of the show, aside from Koons Made in Heaven series, was Murakami’s dedicated space. Containing flyers for visitors to take away, a video featuring Kristen Dunst singing “Turning Japanese” was on repeat in the gallery. Lesser known than perhaps Murakami’s superflat art paintings, animated films, and goods produced by Murakami Inc, is his engagement with (non-animated) film. This film, featuring Kristen Dunst, engages kitsch to the extreme, singing and dancing in the streets of Japan.

Murakami, Kristen Dunst "Turning Japanese", Film Still
Murakami, Kristen Dunst "Turning Japanese", Film Still

Murakami, Kristen Dunst "Turning Japanese", Film Still
Murakami, Kristen Dunst "Turning Japanese", Film Still

Having visited the MOCA retrospective of Murakami’s work in Los Angeles, the enactment of the show itself provides an excellent example of the full context of the Japanese Pop art Movement: its goals and dialogues. The smiling rainbow flowers littered the gift shop in pin, pillow, poster, and purse. Louis Vuitton had a pop-up shop of sorts at the end of the gallery . Here, the phrase “exit through the gift shop,” was certainly fitting.



The international pop animation style is the canonization, in a way, of Japanese and pan-asian traditions of anime and manga. Films such as ghost in the shell 2.0 and appleseed are prime examples of Japanese anime attaining international recognition. The artistic movement-consecrated in the commercial as well as the art world- is part of a niche art faction called “Superflat”, a self professed postmodern art movement. The “granddaddy” of the movement is Takashi Murakami. Perhaps this is too simplistic—and it goes against the rejection of authorship that we have been learning about all semester. At the very least Murakami has been attributed with bringing Superflat art to international prominence and recognition. The work often critiques aspects of modern Japanese culture, such as consumerism and sexual fetishism, that have emerged in post-war Japan. Themes include hyper-sexuality and the fear of growing up.

Takashi Murakami, Tan Tan Bo, 2001, acrylic on canvas mounted on board, 141 3/4 x 212 5/8 x 2 5/8 in. from Murakami - Martin Irvine - Picassa Web Albums

Murakami analyzes the modem mechanisms of Western artists because Japanese art institutions are “backwards”. Murakami is an unashamed devotee to the market, and embraces the commercial opportunities that present themselves and that are necessary to defining the success of an artist. Artists who turn their noses up at commercialism are fooling themselves about the which direction the art industry is going. Art that everyone can appreciate is not necessarily good art, says Murakami. Making art part of a political discourse of “classlessness” inadvertently ignores those who stray from this premise. Talented artists who diverge from the ideals of “art as something that everyone can enjoy” are not able to attain the kind of success that they might have elsewhere—in, for example, the United States.


Superflat is one of those art movements that is uniquely updated and actually very well thought out both in its homage to pop art's sensibility-altering works and also to the predecessor's iconic artist or group that helps to define and characterize the movement. Our class posts all deal very extensively with Murakami's work and the themes that are perceived, like over-emphasis on sexuality, its innate low-art, high-accessible form, to come to define an art style that actually very well encapsulates the "outsider's" perception.

In the NYT articles provided in the course pack, there were a series of murders perpetrated by an otaku that really shed negative light on manga readers in general. Superflat is grounded in some part to perhaps not clearing a name or an image, but rather to feed into the general public beliefs and taking those ideals even further, to the point of distillation or over-repetition. This in many way mimics the same sort of high-brow separation that we in the west once gave to advertising art, or early graphic design for that matter. We focused commercial objects not as they were, much as Murakami satirizes the perspective of the manga/anime outsider. Murakami's body of work, from his early hyper-sexualized vinyl production and later with working with LV and Kanye West show the entire spectrum of reference that the artist has worked with: oversexualized themes, commodity fetishization, Patriotic manifestations, satire, the list goes on.

Lian Han

Despite Murakami’s claims that the Japanese culture has been shifting away from entrenchment in high levels of consumerism only, that overtook the country in the ‘80s, Japanese artists that could be categorized as superflat, by Murakami’s own assessment, “create their own version of popular culture to draw attention to the dominance of the media, entertainment and consumption.” Yet it seems there is so much to draw inspiration from in the superflat oeuvre, as Japan is known for images, films, television shows, and icons that immediately translate to the superflat culture. Boys and girls in the United States alone have been clamoring for these iconic images and commerical goods for decades, be it a hello kitty purse or the next episode of Dragonball Z.
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And the obsession with the overly cute Kitty doesn’t stop at young girls anymore. In 2009 Bank of America introduced Hello Kitty for bank cards (like the Visa seen left) and personal checks. So it’s not surprising that Murakami, a Japanese artist who has his factory and life in Japan, focuses his works on characters like DoB (shown right). external image 3331768596_0ace584274.jpgDoB, among other key figures, have taken him to new heights of artistic and commercial success by integrating actual ideals of Japanese cultural significance like kawaii and manga.

I believe more than anything that Murakami works to blend high and low art in his country because he “sees the cultural products of the anime and manga industries as some of Japan’s most valuable and innovative contributions,” as Darling asserts. In this sense, Murakami is like Warhol in that he sees the power and influence that commercial success and pop appeal have in translating low art to gallery art, but it also seems that Murakami embraces the opportunity to let art fall anywhere it may fall. While he is interested in expanding his brand and his commercial successes as a business man, Murakami seems ultimately more driven by the desire to create and share than the desire to be famous.

That being said, Murakami has partnered with movers and shakers in the fashion industry (Vuitton), the music industry (Kanye West), and beyond. His desire to create art is still kept in check by his desire to be commercially successful, but he seeks out opportunities that are innovative, exciting and collaborative, in ways that perhaps some of his successors in Pop Art in the states, did not.

Jess Perlman