TRAVELING SUPERFLAT EXHIBITION FEATURES WORK BY SOME OF JAPAN'S MOST PROVOCATIVE CONTEMPORARY ARTISTS
PAINTING, PHOTOGRAPHY, WORKS ON PAPER, VIDEO, FASHION, COMPUTER ANIMATION, CARTOONS, PERFORMANCE,
"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.
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.
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