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Takashi Murakami (b. 1962)
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Takashi Murakami (b. 1962)

Flowerball Pink

Takashi Murakami (b. 1962)
Flowerball Pink
signed and dated Takashi 07 (on the reverse)
acrylic and platinum leaf on canvas mounted on board
diameter: 39½in. (100.3cm.)
Executed in 2007
Gagosian Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2007.
New York, Gagosian Gallery, Takashi Murakami Tranquility of the Heart Torment of the Flesh- Open Wide the Eye of the Heart, and Nothing is Invisible, 2007.
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VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 20% on the buyer's premium.

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Francis Outred
Francis Outred

Lot Essay

'When I was preparing for the entrance exams for the University of Fine Arts, I spent two years drawing flowers. I drew some every day... Afterwards, to earn a living, I spent nine years working at a preparatory school, where I taught the students to draw flowers. Once every two days, I would buy flowers for my lesson and make compositions for my students to work on. At the beginning, to be frank, I didnt like flowers, but as I continued teaching in the school, my feelings changed: their smell, their shape - it all made me feel almost physically sick, and at the same time I found them very "cute". Each one seemed to have its own feelings, its own personality... And these days, now that I draw flowers rather frequently, that sensation has come back very vividly. I find them just as pretty, just as disturbing. At the same time there is this strength in them; it is the same image of strength I find when drawing the human face. So I thought that if the opportunity arose, I would pretty much like to make a work in which I would represent them as if in a "crowd scene", in the manner of these scenes of moving crowds that you see in films' (T. Murakami quoted in Takashi Murakami Kaikai Kiki, exh. cat., Paris and London, 2002, p. 84).

Brimming with colour and with infectious smiles, Takashi Murakami's Flowerball Pink presents the viewer with an explosion of cartoon-like blooms, each with an expression of joy on its face, its mouth wide open, its eyes twinkling with innocence. Painted in 2007, Flowerball Pink presents the viewer with an upbeat incarnation of one of Murakami's most popular themes, the flower, which he usually presents in the anthropomorphised manner shown here, which recalls the manga and anime that are such an important part of contemporary Japanese culture. Murakami's depictions of flowers are amongst his most iconic works: a three-dimensional sculpture of a flowerball was one of the centrepieces of his recent 'intervention' at the Palace of Versailles, near Paris; his own portrait has been included in his work against a backdrop of similar flowers, and he has even worn various outfits allowing him to dress like a flower or a flowerball, showing the central importance of this motif to his work.

Murakami's flowers are clearly highly contemporary entities which resonate with the culture of animation in modern-day Japan while also making reference to an artistic tradition that stretches back centuries in both Western and Japanese culture. Flowers have associations with romance; they are considered objects of beauty and have thus provided sources of veneration for generations of artists. Their status as perennial favourites of painters through the ages is one of the reasons that Murakami has taken them and adapted them to his own purposes, as is so clear in the exuberant Flowerball Pink.

Murakami was originally trained in Nihon ga, a school of art which sought to keep old Japanese aesthetic techniques and qualities alive against the increasing tide of Western influence from the Meiji period onwards. During his training in Nihon ga techniques, in which he attained a doctorate, Murakami studied flowers perhaps more than any other subject matter, as they formed a significant part of the Japanese tradition. In resurrecting them in the cartoonish form evident in works such as Flowerball Pink, Murakami sought to create a bracing new impression of Japanese culture that was informed by and had evolved from Nihon ga, which appeared to be preserved in aspic. Murakami looked around him and saw the different ways in which American culture in particular had brought changes in Japanese culture on every level: 'Post-War Japan was given life and nurtured by America. We were shown that the true meaning of life is meaninglessness, and were taught to live without thought. Our society and hierarchies were dismantled. We were forced into a system that does not produce "adults". The collapse of the bubble economy was the predetermined outcome of a poker game only America could win' (T. Murakami quoted in D. Hebdige, 'Flat Boy vs Skinny: Takashi Murakami and the Battle for "Japan", pp. 14-51, P. Schimmel (ed.), Murakami, exh. cat., New York, 2008, p. 28).

There has been a history of extremes in the relationship between the United States and Japan: the presence of the American armed forces was considered a humiliation in the wake of the Second World War, yet exposed generations of Japanese people to their culture in terms of luxury goods, music and movies. Having lost the centuries-old societal structure and values, the resilient Japanese latched onto that of their occupiers and in many cases surpassed it, creating an intriguing symbiotic relationship. This was especially evident in the realm of animation which so clearly informs Flowerball Pink: Disney and his cohorts had been the esteemed pioneers in that field, and their movies were consumed with relish by the Japanese audience; their legacy, however, was very soon turned to new purpose in Japan, which formed its own animation industry, the pupil soon outstripping the teacher. Even today, Japan is considered one of the world's great centres of animation and has generated entire subcultures around it, subcultures to which Murakami himself reaches out and in whose language he communicates in pictures such as Flowerball Pink.

The flower, then, acts as a defiant marker of Japanese culture in Murakami's work. Indeed, the flowers themselves, though presented with only twelve petals each in Flowerball Pink, nonetheless resemble the Japanese imperial mon, the heraldic crest showing a stylised sixteen-petalled chrysanthemum. Therefore there are strong links in terms of the subject matter to the backdrop of the Japanese culture of the past and of the present. At the same time, the choice of flowers may be a reference to an artist with whom Murakami is sometimes compared: Andy Warhol. His own series of Flowers presented the viewer with a form of 'Superflat' image of petals that in fact had hidden subtexts about mortality while also allowing Warhol to mock his predecessors in the New York art scene, the Abstract Expressionists. Similarly, Murakami appears to be paying homage to Warhol while also challenging his legacy and that of the United States by creating his own images such as Flowerball Pink, which manages to serve both as a superficial celebration of the beauty of plants and at the same time as a more complex reconciliation of Japanese culture in the modern age.

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