In 2001, Takashi Murakami organized the exhibition Superflat, which traced an aesthetic of flatness from traditional Japanese art to contemporary anime (cartoons) and manga (comic books), thereby theorizing his personal brand of Japanese pop. That same year he founded Kaikai Kiki; emerging from the earlier Hiropon Factory, founded in 1996, Kaikai Kiki is the artist's studio and professional artists management company. Much like Andy Warhol's famed Factory, Kaikai Kiki both represents Murakami's world-view and nurtures young Japanese artists.
Kaikai Kiki is borrowed from the Edo-period term, kikikaikai; the 16th century publication History of Japanese Painting uses the phrase to describe the work of Kano Eitoku, the master of the Kano school, as "bizarre yet refined" and "delicate yet bold." Kaikai and Kiki are also the names of two of Murakami's recurring characters-Kaikai and Kiki who both wear their names inscribed on their ears. For Murakami, the two figures function as guardians and as a connection to Japanese art historical traditions. Murakami elaborates:
"In Japanese we have this adjective, kikikaikai, which we use for strange things or phenomena, things that are frightening, disturbing or make us uneasy. But in this case, I was not referring directly to that expression but to another one which, although based on the same sounds, is written with different Chinese ideograms, kikikaikai. This term, that was used by an art critic in the late 16th Century... embraces several different notions: bravery and power, with all the seductiveness those traits may have and at the same time a keen sensitivity. This was the mixture of qualities that was considered elegant at the time, aesthetically speaking... And since I found the expression kikikaikai had a very attractive sound and because the names suited them, I baptized these two characters Kaikai and Kiki." (T. Murakami, in Takashi Murakami Kaikai Kiki (Paris: Fondation Cartier, 2002), p. 87.)
In the present lot Murakami has painted numerous Kaikai and Kiki figures across an all-over field of grinning cosmic flowers-yellow smiling faces crowned with a corona of floral petals. The flowers render the composition superflat and the non-hierarchical character of the patterning imbues the background with a landscape quality. The creatures appear alternately angry, happy, voracious, and contemplative, and engage in a variety of activities, smoking, singing, crying, wailing. It is an exuberant image of supercute, rebellious characters and brilliant lively colors.