In the late 1980s, Mike Kelley unsettled audiences from Chicago to Los Angeles with his provocative site-specific work . Kelley funneled visitors through a colorful corridor of 42 cultural icons each affixed with a quote celebrating rebelliousness. The work mocked society’s assumptions that artists were pure, their work liberating.
For his new show at Gagosian, Takashi Murakami openly riffs off Kelley’s work exchanging creatives for economic figures and poster art aesthetics for pixelated computer graphics. On a technicolor timeline, we meet the likes of Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes, bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto, and Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin.
The images began as pixelated portraits for Murakami’s OpenSea account, but now, with the quotes attached it’s hard to tell the meaning, particularly given Murakami’s ongoing market dominance and engagement with NFTs.
“Understanding the New Cognitive Domain,” which is presented at Gagosian’s Le Bourget location on the outskirts of Paris, duly stages some of Murakami’s blockchain-related ventures, even if his large-scale paintings dominate the gallery. Most hyped is “Flower Jet Coin NFT,” a pixelated version of Murakami’s classic smiling flower, minted and gifted free of charge to visitors on the opening day of the show.
“I think NFTs can be a token for people to enter my world and feel closer to my art,” Murakami told Artnet News, noting he’d done something similar with miniature sculptures in gum machines. “To me, it is really important for people to experience my worldview, and not just through my paintings and sculptures. I need different forms for people to experience my work.”
The Tokyo-based artist also presents his inversions: physical versions of works he originally created digitally as NFTs. Murakami entered the NFT market a matter of weeks after the $69 million Beeple sale at Christie’s, though the artist equally credits the influence of watching his children enter the world of the metaverse through gaming.
His superflat aesthetics and cutesy characters have been a hit with the Web3 crowd. Among his most popular drops was 2021’s Clone X NFTs, a collection of 20,000 algorithmically generated characters built for the metaverse. At Le Bourget, Murakami presents two of the anime-esque avatars in offline works on mirror plates.
Despite these ongoing forays into the realm of NFTs, most of the show stands firmly on long-established ground—in one instance quite literally with , a 12-foot-long work from 2010. Dwarfing the indigo dragon in scale is a new work based off the stage curtain Murakami created for Tokyo’s main Kabuki theatre. Commissioned by director Takashi Miike, the 75-foot-long acrylic on canvas is something of a celebration of giants from Japan’s art, film, and theatre worlds.
There’s something of everything at Murakami’s latest Gagosian show (or should we call it a drop) and this aligns with an artist who sees the worlds of crypto, NFTs, and art merging.
“One of the goals of NFT art is really to expand the cognitive dimensions of value,” Murakami said. “To challenge the concept of value and what it is. This is understanding the new cognitive domain.”
See more images from Murakami’s show below.
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