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Friday, Dec. 25, 2009

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Dream team: The mid-decade upturn in the economy gave artist Takashi Murakami the chance to engage in several corporate collaborations, incuding one with Mori Building Co., Ltd., for whom he made "Planet 66" and other artworks to commmemorate the opening of their Roppongi Hills project. © 2003 TAKASHI MURAKAMI/KAIKAI KIKI CO., LTD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Murakami's influence continues to prevail

Staff writer

If Japan's artists were aware of the largely meaningless meanderings of government arts policy during the noughties, and the gradual rebuilding of art-world infrastructure laid waste by the bursting of the bubble economy in the early 1990s, then they didn't let it distract them from their work.

Like any other period of 10 years you care to take from history, this one has its champions.

Likely to feature in future histories of the decade are the gently disorienting visions of photographer Rinko Kawauchi; the seductively understated paintings of Kyoko Murase and Leiko Ikemura; participatory art projects by community-conscious creators such as Tsuyoshi Ozawa and Shimabuku; Hiroshi Sugimoto's breathtaking solo exhibitions, which he designed himself as extensions of his already famous photographs (seascapes, etc.); Yoshitomo Nara's paintings of childlike characters that captured the growing skepticism of Japan's youth toward their faltering society; and Makoto Aida's and his acolytes chim↑pom's willingness to hold up their own personal flaws and perversions for the sake of social criticism.

And, of course, the artist who is far and away the most influential of the decade is Takashi Murakami.

For better or worse, the marriage that he orchestrated between fine art and popular culture, particularly manga, is still producing legions of fresh-faced graduates.

His influence can be seen in various continuing trends — each of which were on show at the last large-scale art event of the decade, the Tokyo Contemporary Art Fair, held in November at the Tokyo Bijutsu Club.

Some paintings appeal overtly to cuteness — with cartoonlike characters or animals. Others just have a mangalike clarity of finish — people in sharp outline on flat backgrounds, for example.

In fact, the one facet of his practice that young Japanese do not appear to be rushing to imitate is the one that could turn out to be his downfall on the international art market. Murakami's embrace of commercialism was not only unusual for Japan, but it set him apart on the world stage too. As could be seen in his inclusion of a Louis Vuitton boutique within his "© Murakami" show at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, in 2007, Murakami seemed to relish the very rashness of combining high-brow art with low-brow commercialism.

The consequence is that there is now a very real chance that his boom-time shenanigans will cloud history's view of his career. I for one hope he kicks offthe new decade by laying off some of his famously numerous staff, abandoning his attempts to reinvent himself as an animator and focusing his energies on painting.

It would be painful to see his fortunes decline in line with Japan's and the international economies'. And, come to think of it, the same goes for Japan's art world in general.

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