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.
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, Takashi Murakami’s art 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 USD $15 million. At the height of the art market that same year, Murakami’s works 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 Takashi Murakami 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. A Takashi Murakami sculpture made of fiberglass, 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.
Takashi Murakami and Pharrell Williams, The Simple Things. Image from Christie’s. 

Active since the early 1990s, Murakami draws 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 refuses 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.
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. Takashi Murakami’s flower works are among his most popular and most commercialized. These multicolored flowers with smiling centers are nearly synonymous with the artist himself. They appear everywhere from art prints to Takashi Murakami’s Louis Vuitton couture collection.

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. There are now Takashi Murakami Louis Vuitton handbags, Vans skateboard decks, and Modernica chairs. A selection of these collaborative works, along with individual lithograph prints, will be available in the upcoming Heritage Auctions event.

UPDATE JUNE, 2021: A Takashi Murakami flower lithograph was among the notable lots in Heritage Auctions’ April 2020 Urban Art sale. The piece sold for $3,500. A set of three Murakami X Vans skateboards together reached $2,375, and several lithographs crossed $1,000. 

The auction market for Murakami’s work held steady through the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and early 2021, despite the artist’s personal financial troubles. In February of 2021, Heritage Auctions offered a Takashi Murakami sculpture from the 1999 Project KO2 series. The piece depicts an anime-style girl with blonde hair, a pink waitressing outfit, and disproportionately long legs. It sold for $5,625.

Recently, Takashi Murakami moved to enter the burgeoning NFT market. Interest in his digital flower icons exploded almost immediately after their announcement. Yet in a low moment for NFTs this April, the artist decided to pull his digital artworks at the eleventh hour. Murakami wished for a better understanding of NFTs and their associated risks before furthering his plans.

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