The Manga Moment

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Yesterday we trekked out to the Brooklyn Art Museum to see the Takashi Murakami show on its very last day, and so did a lot of other people. Old people, young people, white people, brown people, tan people. Obvious androgynous anime/otaku type folks with thrift store clothes made from a symphony of zippers and an old lady who wondered aloud whether seeing the show was worth the price of a couple of bottles of cheap wine.

When I read the first few captions for the show, it sounded kinda dire — like how Murakami mixed branding and 16th century scolls to license himself and blah blah. I must be so jaded by the commercial art world that I forget that in the fine art world, it isn’t polite to “brand” yourself, even though folks seem to have been doing it since Praxiletes. Anyway, despite the ominous commentary, by the end of the show I was a complete convert. Not that I wasn’t into Murakami before — the show at the Japan Society which he curated, “Little Boy,” (named after one of the atom bombs which we dropped on Japan during World War II) was revelatory and visionary and began to alter my thinking about how Japanese and American cultures could never truly understand each other.

That got me thinking once again about the Manga Moment. Murakami is definitely an art world superstar and for good reason — he’s fantastic. His monstrously large “Gero-Tan Bo Puking” is hypnotic…you could spend an entire day staring at its horrific magnificence and still have more to learn. The Murakami show — also a huge hit in LA — drew such a large and enthusiastic audience of all kinds of people because it is is both timeless and shockingly of the moment. In our special effects world, a naked girl who transforms into a jet fighter with female genitalia on its prow represents more than can easily be taken in in a short span of time.

I was also reminded that while we here in the comics world spend a lot of time analyzing this or that manga trend, we are really missing the forest for the trees here. As I’ve alluded to on this blog before, the otaku “look” and “lifestyle” is just a cool thing for kids now. It has joined the ranks of “punk,” “goth” and “rocker” as a fashion/music/lifestyle category. All this worrying about whether manga readers will grow up to read Tatsumi is beside the point that kids are turning to the otaku life as a refuge from hurt and a regimen for dealing with confusion. It isn’t all about reading. It’s all about appearances.

In our jaded culture, the alienness of Japanese culture still owns the power to shock. At the Murakami show, several paintings had “kid level” captions that explained things very very simply: “This syle is called Superflat because the characters are facing you. Does the mushroom look happy? Sad?” and so on. While one would laud the responsible parent who attempts to inject some culture into a child’s life, the kiddie captions suddenly stopped when confronted with a statue of a naked guy whose giant penis is ejecting a lasso of semen into the air. Does the cowboy look happy? Sad? Confused? Be prepared to defend your answer.

Above: Murakami’s “The Last Cowboy” with shorts which we’ve added in the spirit of Daniele da Volterra, aka “II Braghettone” — the breeches maker.

Comments

  1. cbrown says

    The last day of that exhibit was YESTERDAY? Shit! I was at a mall in New Jersey! Why do I always procrastinate and miss things like this? That museum is about 15 minutes away from me by bus! Dammit!

  2. says

    It isn’t all about reading. It’s all about appearances.

    This reminds me of Neil Gaiman talking about how he sees girls wearing black eyeliner and top hats and strappy black tops, and that doesn’t mean they’re dressing up as Death — maybe they are, or maybe they saw someone else dressed like that and thought “cool! I’m stealing that!” So it goes.

  3. says

    Although I still don’t entirely understand it, you never fail to make these things carry wait when you talk about them. Still, the last cowboy seems very sad to me. To place all of ones self worth in that one thing, can only mean that you don’t have very much at all. He’s like a flasher trying to shock a passer by or cop or someone in a car, just to feel like he can effect something in this world. “Look how important my penis is.” he’s saying. “I can make the world grind to a halt by showing it in public.” Other people can blow themselves and others up with a bomb to make theme selves matter for just one moment. Others rape, steal, and murder. It’s such a poor excuse for self importance, and self importance is a poor thing in it’s self. That’s what I’m getting from this work, anyway. What do you see? Anybody?

  4. Torsten Adair says

    Hmmm… Thinking about Mr. Moonlight’s critique, I would position The Last Cowboy so that his “lasso” is directed into Duchamp’s Fountain, thereby bookending the Twentieth Century between two “shocking” works of art.

  5. says

    I loved this exhibit, my favorite was the room covered in bright smiley flower wallpaper and filled with happy flower sculptures and paintings called ”So Many Flowers” which apparently (according to the description on the wall) also translated to “Cuteness! Summer Vacation.” That room actually made people dizzy.

  6. says

    I had the fortune to catch this show in L.A., at the Geffen Museum (appropriately located in the heart of Japan Town.)

    I was surprised to see I didn’t blog about it myself, but I did take a photo of my daughter in one of the rooms—it was a rainy day when we attended, and my daughter was wearing a raincoat that echoed the wallpaper pattern. Don’t know if this link will come out, but here it is–

    http://i69.photobucket.com/albums/i53/randyr851/2007/06-Halloween-2007/DSC01544.jpg

  7. says

    Murakami blew me away when I went two weeks ago… the sight of a Masamune Shirow-esque cyborg jet transformer with a clitoris as a nose cone has to be seen to be believed. The last show I saw at the BM was Basquiat — you have to give the institution credit for innovative curation choices.

  8. says

    Wow Randy your daughter has really gotten up there in height since the last time I saw you pushing her in her stroller – where was it, at that mall in Century City?

    ~

    Coat

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