Takashi Murakami's Genome No. 10^7x2^122 is a dazzling and kaleidoscopic painting, in which Ben-Day dots, graffiti and pixelated gold leaf co-mingle and intertwine, creating a hybrid in which Murakami co-opts the gestural expressionism of abstraction within his own "Superflat" style. Genome is part of an important series of abstract paintings that conceptually and historically fuse the 20th Century abstraction of the West with the two-dimensionality of traditional Japanese painting. In Genome, Murakami utilizes gold and platinum leaf with an extraordinary devotion to precision and detail. The heavily-ornamented, dazzling picture surface recalls traditional Japanese nihon-ga painting, in which Murakami was formally trained, and which relates very powerfully to Japanese cultural identity. The ability to straddle Japanese tradition and the history of modern art in the West forms the crux of Murakami's best work, in which he has forged a new path for the culture of his native Japan.
Takashi Murakami developed the artistic style of "Superflat" in his own artwork as a reference to the artistic heritage of Japan's inherently flat aesthetic style--from the nihon-ga style to manga (comic books) and anime (cartoons). While its concept is characterized by its two-dimensionality, it also blurs the boundary between high and low art and provides a critical perspective on the nature of art itself. In Genome, Murakami seems to push the notion of the "Superflat" into a new realm. By working within the field of abstraction, which by its nature never makes reference to a three-dimensional object, the "Superflat" reaches its ultimate expression. The obsessive, narrowing focus of the otaku culture--which has long been a mainstay in Murakami's work--is evident in the super-detailed, meticulous, almost anxious surface of the painting itself. Murakami has said: "The work is a mixture of the otaku culture and the abstract, and I think that I now have enough experience in the art world and I have reached the point where I can do more or less what I feel like. DOB, Flowers and Kaikai Kiki are all included in this work" (T. Murakami, "Video Tour with Murakami 8--Infinity, 2008; Dumb Compass, 2008," accessed via www. youtube.com).
The dazzling, nearly hypnotic, obsessive surface of Genome illustrates Murakami's intended goal--to make art that "makes your mind go blank, that leaves you gaping" (T. Murakami, quoted in R. Smith, "Art with Baggage in Tow," The New York Times, 4 April 2008). As such, Genome can be compared to the power of fantasy and the deceptive capability of fiction that is trumped up in anime and manga. Indeed, other works from this series allude to fantastical legends by nature of their titles: "Treasure Island" and "Davy Jones' Tear" reference the overblown, hyperbolic melodrama of the film "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest." Indeed, there is that same kind of sense of awe and wonderment from engaging with Murakami's canvas that one might experience from such a film. Murakami has referenced his admiration for the fantastic technical superiority of George Lucas' Industrial Light & Magic, saying "Lucas and Spielberg are my heroes. I try to work like them" (T. Murakami, quoted in M. Gioni, Murakami: Ego, exh. cat., ALRIWAQ Doha, 2012, p. 40).
In Genome, Murakami has expanded the otaku obsession with the fantastical worlds of anime and manga to go beyond that, into the realm of the eternal, probing into the origin of the universe itself. Not surprisingly, the series also corresponds to his portraits of the Buddhist sage Daruma. Once critic has noted: "Murakami's world has evolved from the Superflat aesthetics of his early work towards a fascination with the supernatural. His most recent paintings are not simply shiny, metallic and new: they resonate instead with references to ancient legends and myths" (M. Gioni, quoted in Ibid, p. 117). Indeed, by nature of its title, Genome, the painting makes reference to the human genome, which contains over three billion base pairs of chromosomes--a seemingly infinite, unknowable number whose code has been unlocked and sequenced in only the past few years. As such, it speaks to Murakami's earlier works, such as Reversed Double Helix, and points to others within this specific abstract series, such as Infinity and NGC 2371-2 (Gemini Nebula), which refers to a planetary nebula in the constellation Gemini. In fact, the amorphous, figure-eight type symbol that Murakami depicts in Genome bares striking resemblance to the NGC 2371-2 nebula, which is described as "dual lobed" and, in fact, may be two separate entities, which resulted from ionized gas released by two giant red stars.
In the upper register of this dual-lobed form, Murakami depicts a small circular dot that recedes within a circular black field, which might alternately be read as either an "eye" or as a planet receding into space. Beneath it, Murakami depicts a crescent shape, through which one can view a sparkly, nebulous image that recalls photographs of the milky way. The crescent exerts an oppositional pull on the dark circle, such that the two are held in a suspended tension, a fundamental push and pull that can be compared to the yin and yang sought by Zen ink painters of the Edo period, which Murakami has indicated as a source. That Murakami surrounds these oppositional forces within an intricate, scroll-like "halo" of gold and platinum leaf only reinforces its importance as the painting's central motif. In this way, Genome represents the intersection of two oppositional forces, which has long been at the heart of Murakami's work. As such, it may allude to the even greater notion of creation/destruction that recalls the specter of the atom bomb that pervades the culture of Japanese society. As one critic described,
"The destructive force of the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945 can be seen as the engine that has driven the Murakami art machine. The artist continues to trace the echoes of their devastation as they are manifested in every corner of Japanese culture. The tragedy of the Japanese people always looms somewhere below the surface" (M. Gioni, quoted in Ibid, p. 119).
This fact is all the more pertinent considering that Murakami's own mother narrowly escaped the second bomb that was intended for her hometown of Kokura, but which was diverted to Nagasaki. He recalls, "So when I was a child, she told me, 'If the bomb had been dropped in Kokura, you wouldn't be here today.' During my childhood, there were a lot of people around me who were damaged by the war and suffered from sickness caused by the atomic bomb." He goes on to describe the feeling "that good and evil might be two sides of the same coin and that human folly is capable of repeating everything" (T. Murakami, quoted in M. Gioni, Ibid, p. 30). In Genome, Murakami lays bare the two sides of the coin, creating a powerful image that embodies the fundamental nature of the universe, illustrating the push and pull of a myriad of oppositional forces--creation/destruction, good/evil, death/life--which is made even more complex by the nature of Murakami's work itself, as it straddles the line between Eastern and Western sensibilities, of two-dimensionality versus three, the "Superflat" of manga and anime versus the standards of "High" art, which Murakami's work has no doubt become.