Takashi Murakami brings summer solstice to the Google doodle
Takashi Murakami has become a global superstar since founding the Hiropon Factory collective of young artists in Japan.
Tokyo — Japanese hipster-turned-multimillionaire artist Takashi Murakami ’s trademark psychedelic flower faces, narcotized eyes, and menacing mouths have been seen in a lot of places: from MOCA in Los Angeles , the Brooklyn Museum in New York , the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston , and the Guggenheim in Bilbao , Spain , to the sides of Louis Vuitton handbags and the covers of a Kanye West album. Today, they’ve taking root in cyberspace. Mr. Murakami has contributed the latest so-called Google doodle, a time-specific embellishment of the search engine’s corporate logo meant to commemorate a significant occasion – in this case, the official start of summer 2011.
Murakami emerged as a self-styled late century Andy Warhol in 1996 when he founded the Hiropon Factory, a collective of young artists who would reproduce his works like widgets. I first encountered his art in the form of a sculpture called Hiropon: a wide-eyed girl-woman with comically massive breasts swinging a stream of lactating milk like a jump-rope around her skipping body.
Hiropon’s sparkly oversized eyes above a pert and tiny nose at first struck me as too self-consciously borrowed from anime cliché. But upon closer inspection, I realized why they were making me increasingly uneasy: blank white orbs of reflected light sat just off-center, adding a hint of Orphan Annie inscrutability to the colorful swaths.
She was cute, even sexy by way of hyperbolic parody. But she was also, quite possibly, deranged.
Murakami has since become a global superstar. A few years ago, his Hiropon sculpture sold for more than $7 million at Sotheby’s. He has branded his controversial theories about contemporary Japan “Superflat:” a flattening of distinctions between high and low art, aestheticism and commercialism, a native preference for two-dimensional, line-based visuals, and a spiritual flatness resulting from Japan’s defeat and infantilism, or empty acquiescence, after World War II. Think Hello Kitty , Godzilla, and Pokemon , inked in zany color.
Of course, Google did not choose the over-endowed Hiropon for today’s doodle, and Murakami’s menace is reduced to a couple of wayward canines to the right of their logo. Japan is addled by ongoing anxieties over nuclear catastrophe and a physically flattened post-disaster landscape. Murakami may be an apt choice for auguring summer fun in our age of apocalypse.
Happy (superflat) summer.
Roland Kelts is author of "Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the U.S."