Takashi Murakami (B. 1962)
Takashi Murakami (B. 1962)
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Takashi Murakami (B. 1962)

Miss ko2

Takashi Murakami (B. 1962)
Miss ko2
signed and dated 'TAKASHI 1996' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas mounted on wood
48 x 48 in. (122 x 122 cm.)
Painted in 1996.
Feature, Inc., New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1998
Takashi Murakami: Summon monsters? open the door? heal? or die?, exh. cat., Tokyo, Museum of Contemporary Art, 2001, n.p. (illustrated in color).
Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art; Brooklyn Museum; Frankfurt, Museum für Moderne Kunst; Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, ©Murakami, October 2007-May 2009, n.p. (illustrated in color).
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Ana Maria Celis
Ana Maria Celis

Lot Essay

“Manga originated as “aimless (man)” pictures, something lowly in contrast to the “finished painting (honga)”; that said, nowadays in Japan, the high in our culture cannot be identified, much less the low. High culture is nowhere in sight. Art is no longer self-sufficient and there are no issues at hand. So as a way to make issues arise with a big bang, I used manga to face off art.” (Takashi Murakami, “Artist Interview: Takashi Murakami,” Bijutsu Techo, November 1994, p. 181.)

With her large eyes, tiny waist, and cascade of waist-length blonde hair, Miss ko2 is one of Takashi Murakami’s earliest cartoon creations, dating from 1996. She has appeared in a variety of guises: from a life-sized fibreglass sculpture, to an animated warrior maiden in Murakami’s 2013 film Jellyfish Eyes. This painting, dating to the same year as the creation of the three-dimensional Miss ko2 (1996), is an important early example of the Superflat painting style that would catapult Takashi Murakami to international superstardom in the early 2000s. The present work was included in his first retrospective exhibition, ©MURAKAMI, which travelled to four cities in Europe and the United States, including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

In 1994, Murakami travelled to New York on a fellowship sponsored by the Asian Cultural Council, where he participated in the International Studio Program at the Institute of Contemporary Art, P.S. 1. While in New York, the artist began to work on a series of artworks exploring Japan’s anime, otaku and bishoujo culture (a term literally meaning "beautiful girl"), which idolizes impossibly sexy, fetishized depictions of female characters. The same year that this painting was created, Miss ko2 became the subject of Murakami’s first major sculpture, the first of many works exploring the effect of erotic anime characters writ large and presented on a life-sized scale.

Miss ko2 depicts a young woman with long blonde hair that cascades down her back, huge, innocent eyes, fair skin as smooth as marble, a tiny waist and mile long legs. She wears what at first glance resembles the typical waitress outfit, but upon closer examination the viewer immediately notices how the outfit clings tightly to her breasts, the mini-skirt barely covering anything at all. This overt sexualization of the female figure is a motif that frequently appears in Japanese anime, manga and popular media. As described by Kitty Hauser’s review of the exhibition Superflat published in Artforum, “Critics with a mind to can find here a sly critique of the spectacular but arcane and self-gratifying world of otaku. [Murakami’s sculptures] take an otaku genre—the figurine— and by blowing it up to what, for otaku “purists,” seem grotesque proportions [...] satirize the puerile obsessions of anime and manga subcultures. But they also simply magnify those obsessions, and the line between critique and celebration is so fine it hardly seems worth pursuing.” (K. Hauser, “Superflat,” Artforum, October 2004, p. 286.)

Having earned a PhD in nihonga (traditional Japanese painting) from Tokyo University of the Arts in 1993, Murakami frequently includes a variety of references to traditional Japanese art and aesthetics in his work. The style in which Miss ko2 is rendered, while derived from anime and manga, also has deeper roots in the flattened perspectives and shapes of Japanese art. Here, the character of Miss ko2 is depicted as if suspended against a silver background, a reference to the Japanese practice of depicting figures and objects against a metallic foil background, frequently used in the panels of folding screens. Beautiful women wearing bright kimono would often be painted on a ground of gold or silver leaf, existing only on the surface of an imaginary two dimensional space.

In an age of Instagram and social media, Murakami’s work is universally appealing. “Rooted in Japanese popular culture, Mr. Murakami's art communicates across borders in a media-driven era of global pop to which fashion, animation, music and electronic gadgetry from Japan have all contributed.” (E.M. Gómez, “The Fine Art of Biting into Japanese Cuteness,” New York Times, July 18, 1999.) Miss ko2 stands tall with a sunny smile, an ambassador and symbol of Japan at the turn of the millennium, arm flung wide in a gesture of welcome.

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