Korin: Red River

Korin: Red River
signed and dated ‘Takashi 2015', titled in Japanese (on the reverse)
acrylic and gold leaf on canvas mounted on wood panel
diameter: 150 cm. (59 1/16 in.)
Painted in 2015
Blum & Poe, Los Angeles, California, USA
Private Collection
Ibiza, Spain, Takashi Murakami, Art Projects Ibiza, 24 June - 26 September 2015.
Vancouver, Canada, Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg, Vancouver Art Gallery, 3 February - 6 May 2018.
Fort Worth, United States, Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg, Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, 10 June - 16 September 2018.

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Jessica Hsu
Jessica Hsu

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Lot Essay

Behind massive media attention and high-impact marketing visuals hides an artist who's earned a PhD in Nihonga art. His knowledge of traditional Japanese aesthetic culture combined with his exposure to international pop-culture makes him well equipped for extensive reflection on visual impact and mirroring of current society. At the origin of the Superflat movement, Takashi Murakami's signature style relies on the two-dimensionality and flatness of manga and anime to comment on contemporary Japanese subcultures.

As the title suggests, Korin: Red River (Lot 117) has a direct reference to Rinpa-school of Japanese painting led by the Edo painter Ogata Korin (Fig. 1). Emphasis on refined design and technique has become more pronounced as the Rinpa style developed. Here, Murakami composes the work with natural subjects such as plants and flowers, which are often seen in Rinpa works. The flowers against a rounded empty background emphasize the poetry of nature. The contrasted surface textures between artificially modulated black background and smooth computerised colour areas are prominent in evoking traditional Japanese woodblock printing method. The flat rendering of the river also reminds us of the traditional Japanese ukiyo-e prints, and Murakami transcends it to fit into his own pop-culture inspired vocabulary.

Just like American pop artists such as Lichtenstein and Warhol who used parody and techniques of advertising to bring the attention on thought-provoking visuals relevant to society, Murakami challenges the definition of "high" art in opposition to "hobby" art on all levels of Korin: Red River, from its title, to its content and form. Such bold vertical references (to traditional Japanese visual vocabulary) and lateral references (to transatlantic artistic counterparts) make Korin: Red River easily identifiable as an opus to both past and present Japanese cultural identification. This work propels Murakami's art far beyond the luxury business marketable world and into the realm of complex and thoughtful reflection on the role of art as conveyer of culture.

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