Arts & Crafts

Murakami: Versailles

Murakami: Versailles


Both traditional Japanese paintings, especially pre-modern ukiyo-e and post-WWII Manga and Amime are characterized by what artist Murakami Takashi branded “Superflat”: aesthetic two-dimensional forms, the absence of western notion of perspective. It was evident in the traditional nihonga (日本画, lit. Japanese-style paintings) painting in which Murakami himself received PhD from the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music in the ukiyo-e prints of Hiroshige; it pervaded the fantasy worlds of manga and anime; and it informed the work of a new generation of artists, illustrators, designers, and animators whose products were showcased in the Superflat exhibition curated by Murakami.

Superflat Japanese postmodernity

Murakami Takashi wrote in his concept book SUPERFLAT, Japan’s “Society, customs, art, culture: all are extremely two dimensional”―super flat, and said, “It is particularly apparent in the arts that this sensibility has been flowing steadily beneath the surface of Japanese history,” and “the sensibility is most present in Japanese games and anime.”

He said, “One way to imagine super flatness is to think of the moment when, in creating a desktop graphic for your computer, you merge a number of distinct layers into one,” and he has “lined up both the high and the low of Japanese art in this book is to convey this feeling.”

“I would like you, the reader, to experience the moment when the layers of Japanese culture, such as pop, erotic pop, otaku, and H.I.S.ism―H.I.S. is a discount ticket agency in Japan. By lowering the price of travel abroad, the company is having a profound effect on the relationship between Japan and the West―, fuse into one,” said Murakami, “ ’superflatness’, the sensibility that has contributed to and continues to contribute to the construction of Japanese culture as a worldview, and show that it is an original concept that links the past with the present and the future.”

“ 'Super flatness' is an original concept of Japanese who have been completely Westernized,” Murakami said.“During the modern period, as Japan has been Westernized, how has this 'super flat' sensibility metamorphosed?”He pointed out, “If that can be grasped clearly, then our stance today will come into focus,” and “In this quest, the current progressive of the real in Japan runs throughout.”

Superflat art is surprisingly flexible. It is graciously and knowingly amenable to art historical, cultural, theoretical, and non-theoretical readings alike. Murakami positions it within a history of art in which it is the successor to both Japanese visual traditions and Western Pop art, while also displaying an insider's knowledge of so-called otaku subcultures. Superflat presents works by 19 of the most exciting artists: including Nara Yoshitomo, Takano Aya, Aoshima Chiho, Matsui Erina, Sawada Tomoko, Nawa Kohei, working in Japan today in painting, photography, works on paper, video, fashion, computer animation, cartoons, performance, and sculpture. It is this legacy of the Superflat that lives on today in the cultural DNA of contemporary Japanese art and visual culture at large.

Feature Story

  • The rise of edo pop-art

    In the Edo period, a style of woodblock prints called ukiyo-e became a major art form and its techniques were fine tuned to produce colorful prints.

  • A dichotomy in Japanese art after the period of isolation

    The introduction of Western cultural values led to a dichotomy in Japanese art, as well as in nearly every other aspect of culture, between traditional values and attempts to duplicate and assimilate a variety of clashing new ideas.

Reference Columns