Could any context for presenting Oval Buddha Silver be more beautiful than the Salon de l'Abondance, the first room in the Grands Appartements du Roi?...Oval Buddha Silver is marked by its preciosity, while demonstrating all of the ambiguity of Takashi Murakami's characters.
—P. Dagen and J. Gasparina, Murakami Versailles, exh. cat., Château de Versailles, 2010, p. 42
Forged in dazzling sterling silver, Takashi Murakami’s monumental Oval Buddha Silver (2008) delights perception with its polished surface and challenges the mind’s eye as its central figure seeks the ever-elusive nirvana. As distinctive in style as Jeff Koons’s stainless steel works, Murakami’s iconic Buddha both physically and metaphorically encompasses the universal striving for perfection, encasing the figure of serenity in an alluring material praised for its purity. “It is well known that smoothness is always an attribute of perfection because its opposite reveals a technical and typically human operation of assembling. …As for the material itself, it is certain that it promotes a taste for lightness in its magical sense…with the curvature, the spread and the brilliance of soap bubbles” (R. Barthes, quoted in B.-C. Han, Saving Beauty, Medford, 2018, n.p.). Comprised of seventeen separate elements, Oval Buddha Silver testifies to the artist’s singular imagery, design sensibilities and facility with refined materials while uniting the world of contemporary art with ancient civilizations.
Buddhist religious practice aims to free oneself from the pain and suffering of the mundane world by reaching the Truth or Enlightenment, emphasizing a middle way that avoids the extremes of both hedonism and asceticism. While the traditional cross-legged imagery of the seated Buddha inspires calm introspection, Murakami's Buddha instead lazily drapes himself atop a budding lotus petal base, bringing his dazed look into both literal and figurative elevation. The present Buddha’s outrageously oval head nods to a shape recurrent throughout the artist’s litany of invented characters, including the iconic Mr. D.O.B, while his heavy-lidded eyes bespeak perhaps a different sort of "enlightenment". Thus, Oval Buddha Silver engenders a contemporary characterization of Murakami's imagined Buddha, as an example of strategic hybridism, or the capacity of Japanese culture to assimilate foreign influences without losing its autochthonous identity.
The assimilation ends there for the present Buddha, however, whose mellow, frog-like face belies the snarling, fang-toothed roar emanating from the reverse of his head. Is this a glimpse into the tortured mind of Murakami's Buddha, contesting the efficacy of the enlightened state? Or has the artist instead cleverly captured the dual nature of the Buddha's teaching that to reach peace, one must endure suffering?
Intelligently intertwining notions of both high and low culture, Oval Buddha Silver combines symbols from Japanese Buddhist aesthetics, manga and anime with Western pop culture in a fresh interpretation of a highly regarded spiritual figure. While there is a sentiment of trying to bring the viewer into the past, this cartoonish depiction of the Buddha reconducts him back to the present, instigating the idea that Buddhism is not merely archaic but, in fact, is quite contemporaneous. In much the same way as Marcel Duchamp interred da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in his seminal L.H.O.O.Q., Murakami excavates art history to build his superflat world for today.
Having grown up with the desire to become an anime illustrator and subsequently studied traditional Japanese painting (nihonga) in art school, Murakami is constantly seeking and finding outlets for his own brand of insightful fusion of past and present. Perhaps the pinnacle of such a quest occurred just a few years after the present lot's execution, when an example from the edition was exhibited inside the heavily decorated halls of the Château de Versailles. To see Oval Buddha Silver reflecting the Rococo adornments treasured by Louis XIV, the Sun King, accomplishes the work Murakami only started with the creation of his sculpture. "For Japanese, myself included, the Château de Versailles is one of the great symbols in Western history. It is emblematic of an elegance, sophistication, and artistic ambition that most of us could only dream of. ...Just as the people of France might find it difficult to recreate in their minds an accurate image of the age of the Samurai, so too does the story of the palace become one that is, for us, diluted of reality. Thus, it is likely that the Versailles of my imagination is one that my mind has exaggerated and transformed until it has become a kind of surreal world of its own" (T. Murakami, quoted in Murakami Versailles, press release, Château de Versailles, 2010). In its full glory, Oval Buddha Silver reclaims the timeless throne by absorbing its luxurious sixteenth-century surroundings with its pristine twenty-first-century surface in its rendering of a fifth-century BC figure. As much in sync with its environment as it is an anomaly, the present work enjoys the opportunity to be recontextualized as a spiritual icon again and again, finding ever more passages to its own surreal nirvana.