Executed in 2003, the year that Takashi Murakami and Louis Vuitton began their 13-year partnership, Superflat Monogram stands as a marker of the fruitful journey between these two creative powerhouses and a symbol of the now commonplace commercial relationship between high art and high fashion. In Superflat Monogram, the ubiquitous Louis Vuitton logo is repeated throughout the entirety of the canvas, allowing the work to fluctuate between a painting and a piece of fabric ready to be turned into a handbag. This colorful version of the Louis Vuitton logo, with its use of bright pink, blue, yellow, green, and white, echoes the similarly colored design used for the inaugural collection of handbags the partnership released in 2003, known as the Murakami Multicolore Monogram. The line of bags quickly became the “it” bag of the early 2000s, nearly overtaking the traditional brown monogram in its popularity, and propelling Murakami from art world star to true worldwide celebrity.
The relationship between Murakami and Louis Vuitton reached its apex in 2007 in the now infamous © Murakami exhibition held at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in 2007. In a unique unification of art and commerce, the artist set up a 1,000 square-foot luxury goods store in the middle of the museum. Placed within the pristinely designed makeshift storefront were the wildly popular Murakami and Louis Vuitton handbags featuring the same logo seen in Superflat Monogram. In addition to operating as a unique form of installation within the museum setting, it was also utilized as a fully functional store, allowing visitors to purchase the bags during the run of the exhibition. © Murakami was a grand success for Murakami, Louis Vuitton and the museum, and Murakami and Louis Vuitton continued their successful symbiotic partnership for close to a decade more, dissolving it only last year. As curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles Paul Schimmel explained, “One of the most radical aspects of Murakami’s work is his willingness both to embrace and exploit the idea of his brand, to mingle his identity with a corporate identity and play with that.” (P. Schimmel, quoted in R. La Ferla, “The Artist’s Fall Collection,” The New York Times, November 8, 2007, via www.nytimes.com [accessed 10/6/2016).
This type of extreme consumerism is Murakami’s means to explore the causes underpinning the phenomena of Japanese society, an idea that is further echoed through his use of the Superflat aesthetic. Hand-crafted with almost scientific precision, his work is flattened to a computer screen-like surface filled with commercial graphics, ranging from the Louis Vuitton logo, to cartoon flowers, to his infamous alter ego DOB. Influenced by Pop artists such as Andy Warhol and his predecessors such as Jeff Koons, the Superflat aesthetic combines historical, commercial, and popular imagery as a means of investigating the relationship between global consumerism and art.
For Murakami, the Superflat aesthetic represents the social realities and general morale of Japan after World War II, a time punctuated by the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Furthermore, given the unique geographical location of Japan, the nation has been subject to a number of natural disasters which have, quite literally, flattened large portions of varying regions throughout the country. This literal flatness, which Murakami explores through Superflat, takes on a metaphorical meaning as well, as the dominance of Western politics and culture in Japan has “flattened” various aspects of their own ways of life. This is seen in the way Murakami chooses symbols and characters from the high and low planes of both Eastern and Western culture. Through these nuanced connotations, Murakami has turned the Louis Vuitton logo on its head, infusing it with deeper and more profound meanings than ever before.
The stylistic qualities of Superflat which reveal themselves in Superflat Monogram, chiefly the graphic flatness and deep concern for the hand-made, can further trace their origins to his unique artistic training. As the first ever to earn a doctorate in Nihonga, a traditional Japanese art form, Murakami uses these technical skills to achieve the brilliance of colors and the bold and effortless quality of his lines, allowing his hand-painted works to appear mass-produced and computer generated. Combining the visual language of commercial graphic design, as well as traditional Japanese planar art forms, Superflat references the language and fetishism of Pop Art, only to invert its meaning with resources from Japanese culture and themes of identity politics. These combinations make the Louis Vuitton logo an utterly perfect subject matter for the artist, allowing the core tenets of Superflat to shine through and beautifully illustrating the multitude of ways Murakami has changed the artistic landscape.