No. 86
June 15, 2001
Immediate Release

Karen Gysin 612.375.7651



"Superflat exudes Tokyo cool."--The New York Times

Some of the most exciting artists working in Japan are featured in Superflat, a traveling exhibition organized by Tokyo-based artist Takashi Murakami for The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and presented at the Walker Art Center July 15-October 14. Surveying a tendency in Japanese art, animation, graphic design, and fashion toward two-dimensionality, the exhibition presents works by 19 contemporary artists in painting, photography, works on paper, video, fashion, computer animation, cartoons, performance, and sculpture. Superflat had its U.S. premiere in Los Angeles in January following presentations in Tokyo and Nagoya.

The artists featured in Superflat are: Murakami, Chiho Aoshima, Bome, Enlightenment (Hiro Sugiyama), groovisions, Yoshinori Kanada, Henmaru Machino, Koji Morimoto, Mr., Katsushige Nakahashi, Yoshitomo Nara, Shigeyoshi Ohi, Masafumi Sanai, SLEEP, Chikashi Suzuki, Aya Takano, Kentaro Takekuma, Hitoshi Tomizawa, and 20471120.

Going back to pioneers of Japanese painting in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, Murakami has developed a theory of "super-flat Japanese art" in which this legacy can be seen to be resurrected in the post-World War II rise of the Japanese cartoon cultures of manga (comic books) and anime (animation). In his essay "A Theory of Super Flat Japanese Art" (2000), Murakami suggests a direct line of historical descent between the flatness of the prints of the 19th-century master Katsushika Hokusai, for example, and the 1970s television animation of Yoshinori Kanada. Both share a uniquely Japanese sense of "superflatness," which because it is decidedly unlike our normal reality, Murakami argues, can create an escape from the pressures and expectations of everyday life.

While the exhibition artists lend support to Murakami's argument about two-dimensionality, each also explores and exceeds the limits of their respective genres. For example, Koji Morimoto, best known for designing the opening credits for MTV Japan, makes sketches and animations that take their inspiration from 17th-century Japanese scrolls and statues. Likewise, the styled photographs of Masafumi Sanai and Chikashi Suzuki deal with prevalent cultural subjects while imitating the look of fashion and commercial photography.

Fashion itself plays a significant part in Japanese culture, and many artists are working within the everyday reality of ready-to-wear clothing. A performance group as well as a clothing line, 20471120 stages elaborate large-scale fashion shows that invite audience participation. The brand's mantra is "fashion, art, and character." The graphic design firm groovisions, on the other hand, has created a persona called "Chappie" that appears many places, often multiple times in the same instance, wearing different outfits. The Chappie boys and girls are distinguishable only by the clothing they wear, making a poignant statement about the place of fashion in our lives. "Cute," cartoonlike images, known in Japanese as kawaii, are a predominant part of contemporary commercial culture. In Yoshitomo Nara's cartoonishly aggressive punk children, Chiho Aoshima's digitally rendered girls, or Kentaro Takekuma's familiar cartoon image of Thomas the Tank Engine (a project that aims to deter suicidal commuters from jumping in front of trains), Japan's consumer culture of cuteness is analyzed and dismantled through a variety of provocative strategies. In Murakami's argument, all of this work can be traced back visually through the techniques of anime to a wide range of premodern Japanese master painters. It is this legacy of the superflat that lives on today in the cultural DNA of contemporary Japanese art and visual culture at large.

Superflat is accompanied by a 170-page catalogue in which works by the featued artists are juxtaposed with classic works from the history of Japanese art to suggest an overarching historical preoccupaiton with flatness and a resistance to easy categorization. In English/Japanese. MADRA Publishing Co., 2000. Softcover: $36 ($32.40 Walker members).

Superflat has been made possible in part by the Pacific Design Center and the Peter Norton Family Foundation. In-kind support has been provided by Canon. Promotional assistance has been provided by Artbyte Magazine.

Major support for Walker Art Center programs is provided by the Minnesota State Arts Board through an appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature, the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, The Bush Foundation, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation through the Doris Duke Fund for Jazz and Dance and the Doris Duke Performing Arts Endowment Fund, The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Target Foundation on behalf of Target Stores, Marshall Field's, and Mervyn's, The McKnight Foundation, General Mills Foundation, Coldwell Banker Burnet, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the National Endowment for the Arts, American Express Minnesota Philanthropic Program, Honeywell International, The Regis Foundation, The Cargill Foundation, U.S. Bank, Star Tribune, The St. Paul Companies, Inc., and the members of the Walker Art Center.

Northwest Airlines, Inc. is the official airline of the Walker Art Center.

Related Events

Opening-Day Talk: Takashi Murakami
Sunday, July 15, 2 pm, $8 ($4 Walker members and students)
Followed by reception
Artist-curator-scholar Murakami's opening-day talk includes a screening of one of his short films.

Free Thursdays

Free Ware: Scott McCloud
Thursday, August 16, 7 pm, Free
Artist-author-new media pioneer Scott McCloud speaks about comics (including Japanese manga and anime), pop culture, and the Internet. McCloud, who has lectured on digital media at M.I.T.'s Media Lab, is the creator of the independent series Zot! and the author of the books Understanding Comics (1993) and Reinventing Comics (2000). Free Ware is the Walker's ongoing series about the intersection of art and technology.

Free Thursday Tours
Free, Meet in the lobby.
Thursday, July 19, 6 pm
Thursday, July 26, 6 pm
Thursday, August 9, 1 pm

Saturday and Sunday Tours
Free with gallery admission
Saturday, July 21, 2 pm
Sunday, July 22, 2 pm
Sunday, July 29, 2 pm
Sunday, August 5, 2 pm
Sunday, August 19, 2 pm
Saturday, August 25, 2 pm

Free First Saturday
Flatter Yourself
Saturday, August 4, 12 noon-4 pm, Free
This family day includes an art-making activity in which participants fold paper, draw figures, and create characters inspired by the exhibition, led by artist Jane Meyer, and a screening of the Japanese film My Neighbor Totoro created by award-winning animator Hayao Miyazaki.

Walker After Hours
Manga Mania!
Friday, August 10, 7-10 pm, $14 ($7 Walker members)
Discover manga and the world of Japanese cartoon culture and find a magical world divorced from reality. It's all about color, shape, and fashion. Take in a screening of Princess Mononokie, directed by Hayao Miyazaki, or get lost in the crazy beat of drum and bass sensation Suki Takahashi. The Martini of the Month: Saki To Me!

Walker After Hours is sponsored by Target.

Walker box office: 612.375.7622.

The Walker Art Center is located one block off Highway I-94 at the corner of Lyndale Avenue South and Vineland Place in Minneapolis. For public information, call 612.375.7622. Gallery hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, 10 am-5 pm; Thursday, 10 am-9 pm; Sunday, 11 am-5 pm; closed Monday.

Gallery admission is $6 adults; $4 young adults 12-18, students with I.D., seniors, groups of 10 or more. Free to Walker members and children under 12, Free to all every Thursday and the first Saturday of each month. (Free First Saturdays are made possible by Coldwell Banker Burnet.)