“Those simple things in life get overlooked.” -Pharrell Williams
The most luxurious things in life are often the simplest. The SimpleThings (Lot 58) is the collaborative result of artist Takashi Murakamiworking with musician Pharrell Williams. Inside the mouth ofMurakami’s original character Mr. DOB are seven objects hand-pickedby Pharrell Williams, which he uses on a daily basis – a can of PepsiCola, a cupcake, Johnson’s baby lotion, Heinz tomato ketchup, a bagof Doritos chips, a Trojan Magnum condom, and a Billionaire BoysClub sneaker. These everyday objects were crafted out of 26,000diamonds, precious gems, and gold by fine jeweller Jacob & Co. Underthe 14 spotlights inside of Mr. DOB’s mouth, these seven ordinaryobjects dazzle like stars on a stage.
Extravagant and simple, commercial and artistic, mainstream andniche — in his artwork, Murakami masterfully combines elementsthat seem diametrically opposed in nature. The Simple Thingsdemonstrates the significance of duality in his artistic practice. Theartist arranges objects that are commonly perceived as incongruoustogether. Through this process, he attempts to neutralise theboundaries between different territories in art and in life. Viewed fromthe front, Mr. DOB’s gaping maw and fearsome fangs rendered in amanga style seem to threaten to devour everything. This intimidatinglook juxtaposes with the back of the work where viewers can findan amiable self-portrait of Murakami. The artist uses the mostextravagant embellishments to adorn the most ordinary objects.Conversely, as the cupcake is transformed into an artwork, it alsoloses its innate deliciousness. The artist craftily superimposes objectswhose properties are polar opposites and compels the viewers toquestion the nature of consumerist culture: what gives you the purestform of joy? A bite of cake, or a bejewelled object shaped to resemblea cake?
Mr. DOB in The Simple Things is one of Murakami’s earliestcharacters, and he is also the most prominent element in this work.This chimera is a combination of traditional Japanese folkloremonsters and characters in contemporary fiction culture, such as theever popular Doraemon, Sonic The Hedgehog, and Disney’s MickeyMouse. One night in 1993, Murakami was playing word gameswith his friends, and he created Mr. DOB as a word play. His namealludes to the catchphrase of Japanese comedian Tour Yuri, “dobojidedobojide?” (why, why?). The character has been expanded upon andnow appears in numerous guises both in terms of artwork medium— from paintings and sculptures to collectibles and inflatables – aswell as temperaments: happy, adorable, gloomy, and violent. Mr. DOBis also a stand-in for Murakami himself when he appears in his selfportraits.It is a powerful icon of an emerging culture.Murakami shatters the boundary of art and extends its reach toother disciplines. Pharrell Williams is a musician, a fashion designer,and the first male model to front a handbag campaign for Chanel.This collaboration is the culmination of Murakami’s cross-disciplinepractice where visual arts, music, fashion, jewellery, and popularculture converge. Murakami’s works emerged from the Japanese NeoPop Art narrative in the early 1990s. It is a movement that integratesconsumer culture as well as commercial products into art. Influencedby Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons, Murakami infuses elements of history,commerce, and popular imageries into his Superflat aesthetics as amean to investigate into the shallow nature of the global consumeristsociety. Differing from Warhol and Koons works that emphasis onmechanical production and the reproducibility of images, Murakami’sworks focus on the perfect presentation of textures and details via handmade craftsmanship. His sculptures are renowned for their highproduction value and precise fabrication — every component of TheSimple Things were individually moulded. The entire process took wellover a year to complete, and the final sculpture is one-of-a-kind. Thisalso explains why the holder of Murakami’s highest auction recordis also a sculptural work. Artist Tomoaki Kayama, who frequentlycollaborates with Murakami, reveals that Murakami once made a workwith eyes that are only two to three millimetre in diameter. Yet, therewere five to six layers of details in such a small area. After The SimpleThings was completed, it made its debut at Basel in Switzerland toan overwhelmingly positive reception. It was ultimately sold after aheated bidding war that lasted well over half an hour. The owners havekept this work in their collection since 2009 — the current auctionis the first time in ten years that this work is offered to the public atauction.
Hailed as the most flamboyant monarch in the history of France, LouisXIV is a fervent patron of the arts, and he built the Palace of Versaillesin 1682. It has been recognised as the cradle of progressive art eversince. Murakami held a solo exhibition in the Palace of Versailles in2010. It is an acknowledgement of his importance in the contemporaryart world. The Simple Things was also shown in that exhibition.Moreover, this work also participated in numerous internationalexhibitions held in important cultural institutions, including TateModern in the United Kingdom, Qatar National Museum, DesignExchange museum in Canada. The significance of this work cannot beoverstated.
Not only is Superflat a common thread among all of Murakami’sworks, its theoretical basis is also the cornerstone upon which NeoPop Art was built. The way in which Superflat influences artistic andacademic development is seminal. Not only does it employ a nonthree-dimensional linear perspective that is commonly used in manga,and it also highlights the grey area between the privileged positionof “high” art and the vulgarity of “low” art. By utilising impeccablecraftsmanship that verges on scientific precision, Murakami is ableto achieve a finish that has the gloss of commercial graphics and aflatness that rivals digital displays. According to Murakami, Superflatreflects a mentality that is prevalent in Japanese society after theatomic bombings that ended the World War II. Traditional Japanesepaintings emphasize flatness in composition. The strength of a worklies in whether it can inspire an epiphany from the viewer. Such aspiritual exchange with the artist would transcend time-space. Theexperience would sublimate from the two-dimensional space of thepicture plane across the fourth dimension. In terms of concept andtechnique, anime and manga share the same principles as traditionalJapanese paintings. They both do not adhere to the laws of linearperspective which is privileged in Western art. Instead, it focuses onconstructing an imagery space within the second dimension. As aresult, the content that the work tries to convey can resonate with theviewers. Murakami’s works possess these two qualities — flat andstimulating to the imagination. They contribute to a truly unique visualexperience for the viewers.
Murakami combines the technique of traditional Japanese arts withmanga and Otaku sub-culture to synthesise a seamless contemporaryvisual language. He studied traditional Japanese art in TokyoUniversity of the Arts and became the first doctor of Japanese paintingin the history of the institution. On the surface of Mr. DOB’s jet blackhead, Murakami applied a layer of multicolour glitter. This techniqueis akin to the painstaking process of applying gold and silver inlayson polished Japanese lacquerware. Another monumental work byMurakami that is being offered in this auction is Wow, Kaikai Kiki (Lot59). Measuring six meters long, the intricate and ever-transformingsunflower pattern echoes the aesthetics of Japanese Rinpa school ofpainting that was renowned for the use of floral and birds patternsas decorative motifs. The manga format was utilised by Ukiyo-eartist Hokusai during the Edo period. Every set of manga has its owndiscourse and worldview. For sample, in the world of Dragonball,characters have superpower such as flight. But in Doraemon , childrenmust wear propellers called Bamboo-copter on their heads in orderto fly. In the realm of Murakami, he is the King, and he can commandat will his subjects — these include symbols, imageries, and viewersetc.. He may also re-forge them as a new set of symbolism that can beused across all his works. One of the two original characters in Wow,Kaikai Kiki has rabbit ears, the other has adorable fangs and threeeyes. The names of these two characters mean “the incredible” and “thestrange” — they are the perfect amalgamation of the fantastic andthe grotesque. Manga is an extremely important cultural property ofJapan, and Murakami’s works endeavour to rebuild a collective senseof identity for Japan. As such, he has been recognised as one of themost important contemporary artists in post-war Japan. Wow, KaikaiKiki was also executed around the same period as The Simple Thingsbetween 2009 - 2011. Within the same series, three works of thesame size were produced. These works can very well be consideredas a museum-piece — one is in the collection of The Broad museumin the United States, the other was on view during Murakami’s soloexhibition in Tai Kwun Contemporary in Hong Kong, and this workwas featured as the key image of the solo exhibition.
Artists who can stand the test of time must contribute to the worldgroundbreaking ideas. Murakami’s Superflat offers viewers aninnovative way of seeing. By viewing the world in a compressedmanner, viewers can experience a visual dialogue across time-space.Curator Alison M. Gingeras once praised Murakami as the “Emperorof Signs”. Murakami’s true intention is to incorporate high art and lowart as well as eastern and western cultures in massive art projects asa system to process identity politics and issues surrounding mentalboundaries in the post-colonial era. His ultimate goal is to achieve anutopia where everyone can enjoy the peace of equality.