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.