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Takashi Murakami Exhibits One of the Biggest Paintings in the World, “The 500 Arhats”

Takashi Murakami's often provacative works- which touch upon issues relating to high art and subculture, Japan's defeat in World War II, the relationship between Japan and the US, contemporary art and Japanese art, as well as art and capitalism, while also taking into account political, cultural, and historical contexts- have greatly expanded the domain of international contemporary art. Comprising his historically monumental "The 500 Arhats" and numerous new works, his exhibition at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo focuses on the present state of Murakami's career.


Photo: Takayama Kozo. Photo courtesy of: Mori Art Museum, Tokyo. © 2012 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Takashi Murakami’s often provacative works- which touch upon issues relating to high art and subculture, Japan’s defeat in World War II, the relationship between Japan and the US, contemporary art and Japanese art, as well as art and capitalism, while also taking into account political, cultural, and historical contexts- have greatly expanded the domain of international contemporary art. Comprising his historically monumental “The 500 Arhats” and numerous new works, his exhibition at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo focuses on the present state of Murakami’s career. Having previously concentrated on building his own unique interpretation of Japanese aesthetics by blending the past and the present, East and West, Murakami has in recent years turned his attention to the traditions of Japanese art. The exhibit, taking place a quarter of a century after his debut in 1991, sees Murakami once again taking on new dimensions, in a presentation that includes one of the biggest paintings in the world to ever be created.


Photo: Takayama Kozo. Photo courtesy of: Mori Art Museum, Tokyo. © 2012 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Among the first works to receive visitors into the space are Murakami’s Enso (or “Zen circle”) paintings, symbolically representing not only enlightenment, truth, and the Buddha nature, but also the universe in its entirety. In his almost psychedelic abstract paintings, one can see a blending of Star Wars-like Hollywood special effects, Japanese post-war avant-garde painting, and calligraphy, manifesting around characters like new variations of his whimsical, sharp-toothed “Mr. DOB.” For Murakami, making “The 500 Arhats” was primarily an opportunity to shift his focus to the ways in which primitive religion arises in situations where death is close at hand. After the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, the balance of life and death was called into question and the motif of the arhats suddenly became relevant.

In Japan, there are currently around 610 depictions of arhats, intermediaries who convey the teachings of Buddhism while remaining in this world. Numerous examples of arhat pictures were traced by assistants in Murakami’s studio, and many of their original drawings, color models and careful annotations are also on display. The 100 meter long painting depicts the arhats’ many personalities and quirks with particular depth and comical air, and with a degree of characterization that is reminiscent of manga. By returning to traditional subjects, such as transcendence and enlightenment, and revisiting classical works as well as his own previous works, Murakami is breathing new life into the past and professes to be “extending the life of painting.”

An extensive undertaking, this is a project that is still coming to fruition. Murakami comments, “At the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, faced with a national emergency, the Japanese people experienced a sense of helplessness, yet despite this sense of helplessness, people had to continue to live their lives. In order to recover from despair, we needed a narrative that would restore our hope, even if that narrative was a fictional one. Throughout history, religion and legend have offered such narratives, and now these stories are needed again. The 500 Arhats is a story about healing 500 different varieties of human suffering.”

Takashi Murakami’s “The 500 Arhats” is now on view at Mori Art Museum in Tokyo, Japan through March 6th, 2016. All photos by Hi-Fructose, unless otherwise noted.


Photo: Takayama Kozo. Photo courtesy of: Mori Art Museum, Tokyo. © 2012 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.


Photo: Takayama Kozo. Photo courtesy of: Mori Art Museum, Tokyo. © 2012 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.


Photo: Takayama Kozo. Photo courtesy of: Mori Art Museum, Tokyo. © 2012 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.


Photo: Takayama Kozo. Photo courtesy of: Mori Art Museum, Tokyo. © 2012 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

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