Friday, December 3, 2010

Commercialism and Japanese Art

I think we've already mentioned our ongoing interest in the intriguing Yayoi Kusama, who is amazing as well as literally crazy (she voluntarily lives in a mental institution outside Tokyo). She was giving Warhol a run for his money for a while back in the late 50s in NYC. She calls herself the Princess of Polka Dots and does stuff like this:

But she's especially known for these:

As is common with Japanese artists, she wasn't recognized for her greatness in Japan until she was already well recognized by the West. It wasn't until 2006 that Japan gave her the Praemium Imperiale recognizing her as one of the most important living artists (she was also the first woman to receive this 2006!!). She once sold a piece for $5.1 million, which is a record for a living female artist. Not bad for some one who has struggled with mental illness all their life. Anyways, I found it interesting recently when I went to her website and discovered this:
She's posing with a cell phone and a purse that are bedazzled with her polka dots and are for sale. Moreover, she's quoted as saying, "This strange, joyout moment. I adore it. I love the 'iida' mobile phone deeply." Ok, so she's not known for her English skills. But isn't it kind of bizarre that she'd be pimping this stuff herself, on her own site? I mean, two years ago she sold something at Christie's for over $5 million - doesn't it cheapen her art a bit? Anyways, she's 81 years old. Would you buy a phone lauded by some one born before the 1930's?

As it turns out, this is behavior is not that strange for a Japanese artist. Look at Takashi Murakami.

He once sold a sculpture for $15.2 million at Sotheby's. And he designs for skateboards and placemats. He makes handbags for Louis Vuitton but also sells his art on keychains, t-shirts and other more pedestrian items. He also designed Kanye West's album art for Graduation.

Right now he has 15 sculptures on exhibit at the Palace de Versailles and the French monarchists are calling it illegal. It's probably because of his more erotic pieces, but I also wonder if the French have a problem with his commercialization. He has a studio outside Tokyo where his assistants churn out his merch - both "high" and "low" art. He's not the first pop artist to do this, but he has to be one of the more successful at it. He's lucky to be in Japan where they love cute stuff. He literally studied what makes characters like Hello Kitty and Mickey Mouse popular and then created his own, Mr. DOB--seen here as a plush doll:
That's taking it a step further than Kusama, isn't it? Anyways, he's a pretty interesting guy to watch people's reaction to. As a Japanese tourist in Versailles said at the end of the Sydney Morning Herald article, "I'm not so interested in this type of object. Maybe this is better for foreign people, for French people. He's very famous in New York, isn't he?"

Yesterday I was feeling ambitious and made these homemade pumpkin pie pop tarts.

That afternoon a man appeared at our door with a big package (on Sunday - love that about Japan). Thanks to my family for the Christmas in a Box surprise!

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