Artist To Know: Takashi Murakami

Liz Catalano
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Contemporary Japanese Artist Featured in Heritage’s Urban Art Sale

Takashi Murakami. Image from Numéro Magazine.

Japanese artist Takashi Murakami will be featured in Heritage Auctions’ upcoming online urban art event. Murakami has launched a post-modern movement, dabbled in multiple mediums, and partnered with Louis Vuitton, Kanye West, and Billie Eilish during his long career. Though well-recognized today in both galleries and auction houses, his art is still a subject of debate and study. Before the coming auction, learn more about Takashi Murakami and his style. 

A leader in the contemporary art market, Murakami’s work frequently sells for six-figure prices and higher. His My Lonesome Cowboy sculpture set his personal auction record at Sotheby’s in 2008, with a final hammer price of US $15 million. At the height of the art market that same year, Murakami’s work brought in $37.5 million. Following the global recession and recovery, his auction revenues began to lag behind the broader art market. However, his work has seen renewed attention within recent years. 

Tim Blum, Murakami’s long-time gallery partner, notes that there has been sustained interest in Murakami’s art: “There is a deep re-evaluation happening now,” Blum says. “There is a growing group of people who think his market is undervalued.” In 2016, every Murakami lot sold at an average of 111% above the low estimate, with new bidders showing more interest in his work. The artist’s fiberglass sculpture, made in collaboration with Pharrell Williams between 2008 and 2009, sold for nearly $3 million in a Christie’s sale late last year. 

Takashi Murakami and Pharrell Williams, The Simple Things. Image from Christie’s. 

Active since the early 1990s, Murakami has drawn upon traditional Japanese art and commercial pop culture to create his own genre of work. Sometimes described as a new Andy Warhol or contemporary Pop artist, Murakami has refused labels: “My art is not Pop art. It is a record of the struggle of the discriminated people.” He prefers to acknowledge the darker context of his style, grounded in the aftermath of World War II. 

“In Japan, after losing the war, we were really looking towards, and envious of, Pop Art. Even when the bubble economy came and there was huge growth, it still collapsed and became flat,” Murakami stated in an interview with Numéro Magazine. “[My art is] about culture-flattening.”

Since his start, Murakami has navigated the fine line between commercialism and high art. His inspiration came from both his study of classical Japanese painting—a field in which he earned a Ph.D.— and contemporary Japanese subcultures. Blending the two has yielded Superflat art. Championed primarily by Murakami, Superflat art explores both the two-dimensionality of ancient Japanese work and the surface-level shallowness of consumer culture. 

Takashi Murakami Modernica Chair, set of three, 2019. Image from Heritage Auctions.

“Some people still don’t quite understand the context; to criticize him for commerciality is to miss the point,” said Blum to Art Agency, Partners

The commercial nature of Murakami’s work expands its accessibility; many of Murakami’s available pieces in the upcoming Heritage sale have opening bids under $1,000. This choice is intentional, particularly after Murakami began developing his style and brand. He produces his own merchandise through his art production company, Kaikai Kiki. 
He also frequently partners with other brands to create fashion and household items, including chairs with Modernica, skateboard decks with Vans, and handbags with Louis Vuitton. A selection of this collaborative work, along with individual lithograph prints, will be available in the upcoming Heritage auction.