With exhibitions unrolling at Gagosian in New York and The Broad museum in Los Angeles, as well as a flotilla of NFTs, Takashi Murakami is melding the physical and the virtual.
”An Arrow Through History” debuts Wednesday at Gagosian’s two Madison Avenue locations and an immersive VR component will be accessible on its site or through a VR headset. Gallery visitors will be able to activate Snapchat lenses to view AR animations in each gallery and on the building exterior of one of the Upper East Side sites. The digital marketplace RTFKT Studios (which Nike acquired last year) created the VR component.
The exhibition will feature paintings, portraits, sculpture, Superflat pieces and paintings, including some inspired by a Qinghua porcelain vase from China’s Yuan dynasty, CloneX avatars and NFT pieces, like ones from his buzzy Murakami.Flowers NFT collection.
After some of the new works were offered last week, Gagosian sold 127 of them in a 24-hour stretch, according to a gallery spokesperson.
On May 21, “Takashi Murakami: Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow” will bow at The Broad. Like at the Gagosian shows, there will be AR elements to experience with mobile devices. “I really want people to go to the show physically so that you can experience the physical work and the digital work in juxtaposition,” Murakami said through a translator, Yuko Burtless, in an interview Monday.
Here, the artist discusses the exhibits, Bernard Arnault, the virtual and real worlds and more.
WWD: Will NFTs become more important than the physical work?
Takashi Murakami: I don’t think it’s really about the dichotomy or division between physical and digital NFT art. As a Japanese artist, New York’s contemporary art was already such a faraway thing. Growing up, I had thought of art as something that you meticulously paint or create with high-quality and finish with precision. Contemporary art was all about the concept, and turning over and revolutionizing the concept of art. Since Pop Art, there hasn’t been any huge monumental art movement. And NFT kind of is that big movement…moving forward, many young artists and art students might debut their NFT art and almost simultaneously have a museum art show. That era is coming right around the corner — maybe as soon as this fall. I may have been a little bit early but this is where it’s going.
WWD: What about the criticism on Twitter about inflating the floor price of the Murakami.Flowers?
T.M.: A lot of people are really focusing on price now, overly so. Artists like myself that are represented by major galleries have always been exposed to the situation where the price of artwork goes up and down like stock prices. In the beginning, when you show the artwork, it might be priced really high or low. There are lots of ups and downs and auctions. Eventually it will start to stabilize and then good artists can survive. But if their art doesn’t have substance, they might disappear. You see that in the NFT art. There is a lot out there. Two or three years from now seeing where my NFT art is at and how they’re doing will be important. But the rumor about the price right now at the beginning, the speculation, is not really important.
WWD: Democratizing art has always been integral to what you do. Will NFTs accelerate that more than clothing could, whether that be Louis Vuitton, Supreme or other brands that you have worked with?
T.M.: I have participated in ComplexCon in the past. With the resellers, there’s always a chase and competition. With NFTs, it’s even much, much faster. When I first introduced my Murakami.Flowers, everyone was paying attention, as if it were a public offering. It’s as if these have gone out into the market as pure product. In that sense, it’s sort of the ultimate democratization.
WWD: Why were you recently with the Arnaults in Tokyo?
T.M.: I’ve been working with the watchmaker Hublot and the NFT series is being released any day now. I have had the relationship with Louis Vuitton since Marc Jacobs [in 2004]. Mr. [Bernard] Arnault is one of the important art collectors for me, so we have had a long relationship.
WWD: What did you talk about?
T.M.: I really think that Mr. Arnault should make his own namesake brand Bernard Arnault. I have been looking at his work for over 20 years and he is just so good at what he does. A lot of people are envious. Maybe people are a little jealous even though his talent is really astonishing. He has stores worldwide and all his brands’ products are wonderful. It’s almost like an artistic talent. But people are not really paying attention because they are distracted by how he does well with the business. Virgil Abloh, Kim Jones — all these creatives who collaborated with Mr. Arnault are so motivated that they just do their best…who knows, maybe in 20 years if he has passed away, I am sure the LVMH brand will remain. But his name, Bernard Arnault, may be very quietly remembered and people may not talk about him as someone who has really passionately led the fashion scene in history.
I really feel that he should create a brand with his name so that his name will remain in history. It’s just my opinion as a creator because I really respect him as a creator. It’s not about a business proposal. I have been posting these things on Instagram and Mr. Arnault has read them. When I saw him, he said he was embarrassed to read them. But he appreciated a creator proposing something like that.
WWD: Do you think he is seriously considering it?
T.M.: Probably not [laughs].
WWD: Is the practice of featuring art in advertising, as Tiffany & Co. did with Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Equals Pi” painting last fall, something that you and he speak about or plan to do?
T.M.: When I saw Mr. Arnault in Japan, he was [there] giving speeches to the LVMH people and store people to encourage them moving forward. It was a great opportunity to hear him speak to his people internally. The great impression that I was left with was he repeatedly talked about creative. He kept saying, “creative, creative, creative.” Of course, he has the Fondation [Louis Vuitton] and collects art. But I don’t think it’s about what the brand would look like by having the foundation or it’s trendy for a brand to collect art. He’s purely interested in art, because when anyone creates anything from ground zero, you have to pick up the idea and access that part of you where the idea is generated. For example, athletes, even if they play the same sports, they train the same way to perform at that level so they can understand what they go through. In a similar way, creators, even if they are different kinds, you can understand what you go through to create. With a painting or sculpture, that type of creative process is direct and easy to understand. I think that’s why he is drawn to art and collects.
Regarding art in advertising, he does this so well, it may look like he uses the art to promote the brand. But it’s almost the opposite. He is purely focusing on creative and he loves art. Right now I am only working with Hublot watch. I would love to do more with LVMH.
WWD: What is most inspiring in fashion right now?
T.M.: RTFKT’s collaboration with Nike in the metaverse is incredible.
WWD: Are you co-branding through that venture?
T.M.: I am collaborating with RTFKT and RTFKT happens to be owned by Nike — after the fact though.
WWD: How are the war in Ukraine and the pandemic changing the importance of art?
T.M.: My early works were really about digesting my upbringing in Japan, which was defeated in the world war and it was basically run by the government that the U.S. established. When I was little, watching conflicts like the Vietnam War, I always questioned, “Why do we have war? Why do wars happen?” That question has always been explored in Japanese animation. Most of the time there’s no clear cut good or evil. It’s not about heroes and evil. It’s more about the question of why we have war. The question is still the same. Why do these wars happen? There’s no straight answer. In the entertainment world as well, this ambiguous theme will increasingly emerge. Of course, [with] people who lose loved ones, there are hatred and negative feelings that will come out of this. But if you look back at the relationship between Japan and the United States after the world wars, it was negative in the beginning. But over time, eventually there is respect for each other. And the mood will become a willingness to try to create a better future together. I hope things will go in that direction. But European history is really complicated, deep and long. This is really optimistic of me to say something like that. But as someone from Japan, who has gone through [war] and overcome that once, that is my hope.
WWD: Are there any fashion designers or artists who intrigue you now?
T.M.: People like Yuga Labs of Bored Ape Yacht Club, I am very interested in. Also, I’ve seen ads for “Avatar 2” by James Cameron. I admire how young he still is at his age .
WWD: What do you think of the current state of fashion?
T.M.: Fashion within the metaverse will become a crucial issue for the whole industry. I feel that I can be more deeply involved there. In real-world fashion, people like Virgil [Abloh] brought in so many new things. I had wanted to be involved more, but I had no understanding of materials and things like that in fashion. But in the metaverse, you can really go far with just the concept.
WWD: What new projects do you have coming up?
T.M.: For my Murakami.Flowers NFT project, I’m creating a team to focus on it and am really pouring all my efforts into that. I’ve been working on my TV animation series “Six Hearts Princess” for the past 15 years and it’s finally coming to completion. I am personally involved in editing, adding new cuts and selecting them…there’s no plan for where it will be aired. I’ll just make it and complete it. If someone wants to stream it or air it, that’s great. Otherwise, maybe I’ll just put it on YouTube or something.
WWD: What would you like people to understand about what you do?
T.M.: Thirty years ago, I had certain visions and things I wanted to do. I feel that the young people now have picked up on them and they are working on them with me together. I feel like what I wanted to do when I was young is now being realized. I feel understood — maybe not by the people of my generation or adults now. But the young people, kids, elementary school and junior high school kids actually understand what we’re doing now. Thirty years from now they will be adults in society and they will be realizing these visions.
WWD: What will you do in New York other than work during this trip?
T.M.: I got to walk in Central Park for the first time in my life this morning. It was amazing! I’m experiencing [the city] more like a tourist this time [having first visited around 1994].
WWD: What do you want people to be thinking about in relation to your art, creativity or the promise of tomorrow?
T.M.: Oh, he’s an “otaku” [a Japanese geek].