this issue contains
>> Crossing borders with artcouture
>> Comics at Louis Vuitton
>> Art of the runway at Issey Miyake' s
>> Fashion's muse: Claudia Skoda
>> Bootlegging brands with Olaf Nicolai

>> archive

Lost or Found in Translation:

During the last few years Japanese artist Takashi Murakami came to western museums with his Manga-Comic inspired characters and mural. After numerous biennials and group exhibitions he hit the big score last summer: He was invited by Louis Vuitton's artistic director Marc Jacobs to design bags and accesoires for the label. Now Murakami plans to take Hollywood with animation films. Cheryl Kaplan talked to Murukami and his L.A. based gallerist Tim Blum about the attraction to mass culture and the seductive power of fashion designs.

Takashi Murakami: LV Monolith, Courtesy: Kaikai Kiki. Reproduced with permission. (c)2003 Takashi Murakami. All Rights Reserved.

I'm tipped off by the skycap at Penn Station. He tells me under his breath: track 8 West. I'm carrying a pale pink flower and two Italian cornetti for Takashi Murakami. The crowds are growing, but there are only about four Japanese passengers and none of them is Takashi Murakami or the executive director of his Kaikai Kiki Studio, Gen Watanabe. Not since the Beatles has anyone waited so patiently for an arrival. It's close to 12:03, the Acela Express to Boston (the super-fast train) is two minutes late. The Amtrak ticket taker lets me slip down to the boarding platform, reversing the escalator. No sign of Murakami. It's 12:16. I'm feeling somewhere between "Down by Law" and " Lost in Translation".

Days earlier, at Marianne Boesky Gallery, a horde of young girls, a few men, and several children celebrate the opening of Tokyo Girls Bravo, a Murakami ensemble that showcases 10 emerging Japanese artists along with its companion show Gallery Swap at LFL and Emmanuel Perrotin in Paris. Per capita, there are enough cell phones and digital cameras to make anyone feel famous. But this is nowhere near Murakami's Louis Vuitton-sponsored opening at Boesky's last spring, where the already famous proudly hugged their Murakami-designed handbags as they balanced glasses of Moet Chandon champagne.

Julian Schnabel (rechts) and Ingrid Sischy (editor of the magazine 'Interview")
at the opening of Takashi Murakamis exhibition at Marianne Boesky Gallery, 2003
Photo: Patrick McMullan

Murakami schedules himself between New York (or rather Williamsburg, where his Kaikai Kiki Studio engages 15 assistants: "kaikai kiki" is a term from Japan's Edo period, meaning eccentric, gaudy, and odd, although recently it's been used as an adjective to describe younger fashion that's highly colorful and odd) and Tokyo, where he has 40 assistants. Murakami is in the practice of tipping the scales, swinging between art, fashion, and entertainment. He's even launched his own version of a contemporary art fair, the Geisai festival.

Knock-off Bag, Louis Vuitton, 2003 / Photo: Cheryl Kaplan

I n 2003, Murakami pushed that balance between art and fashion even further, having responded to an email sent by Marc Jacobs' assistant inviting him to collaborate with Jacobs at Louis Vuitton in Paris, the 150 year-old luxury accessory house. Murakami was third in a line of artists/designers chosen by Jacobs since his debut as artistic director at Vuitton in 1998. But Murakami's own fashion debut began in 2000, during his collaboration with Naoki Takizawa at Issey Miyake.

Takashi Murakami, textile-design for Issey Miyakes male-collection, 2000,
Photo: Robert Tecchio (c) courtesy Issey Miyake by Naoki Takizawa
in collaboration with Takashi Murakami

Murakami, who's been compared to Koons, Warhol, and even Walt Disney, has used the West to pry open the East, calling Japan "culturally impotent." His work fetishizes Japan's culture of cuteness in an effort to expose it. Everything is based on his concept of " Superflat," which is driven by a mere interplay of surfaces. Murakami's depictions display no depth, not even effects of perspective. Instead, he piles up more and more new comic characters on his canvases and wall paintings until the pictures seem to explode. In doing so, Murakami proves himself to be a true member of Japanese "Otaku" culture, in which mainly adolescents realize a manic fetishism and obsessive supportiveness as fans of comic and SF-culture in buying as many merchandising products of their particular heroes as possible.

Fashion is not new to art; there have been many other artists treading this line before, from Cocteau and the fashion designer Elsa Scaparelli to Andrea Zittel, who makes her own clothing, and even Tom Sachs' peripatetic Prada embrace.

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