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Takashi Murakami, "In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow"

  • Art, Sculpture

Time Out says

With its allusions to the 2011 tsunami and Fukushima nuclear meltdown, Murakami’s latest exhibition ostensibly ruminates on inexplicable calamities and the ways in which religion and art try to explain them. It’s also a pop-apocalyptic extravaganza, an opulent spectacle where security guards nearly outnumber artworks that hit you like a ton of Krugerrands.

Anchored by a full-scale wooden replica of a sanmon, or sacred gate, “In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow” presents gargantuan canvases leafed in gold and platinum. Meant to suggest scroll paintings, they teem with images of piled skulls and mutated Buddhist monks who seem to have ended up on The Walking Dead after taking a wrong turn at the monastery. Equally over-the-top are sculptures that include two towering demons made of carbon fiber.

The Great Ansei Earthquake of 1855 provides a historical backstory involving the Edo-period artist Kano Kazunobu, whose series of paintings depicting the divine interventions of Buddha’s disciples were created in that calamity’s wake. Murakami takes a page from Kazunobu, but in recalling Japan’s most recent catastrophe, he appears to suggest that the Japanese had it coming.

This seems odd until you consider that Murakami’s work is driven by his vision of an authentic Japanese identity rising phoenixlike from the inauthenticity of anime and manga. In other words, he harbors nationalistic sentiments uncomfortably close to those that propelled Japan into World War II. This worldview isn’t entirely shared by his countrymen—a frustration for him, I suspect, that he may be venting in this show.

Or maybe not. Whatever the case, money—and the grandiose art it can buy—seems to be the only religion that matters here.—Howard Halle


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