Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Art: Murakami at the Brooklyn Museum

It is awfully tempting for me to do a Duncan Hines version of this post (and it wouldn't be all that inappropriate, given the out-of-the-box quality of his dare-I-say "so-called" art); it is tempting to be reactionary, and simply dismiss it as a consumerist cheap thrill, recoil at its profligate sexuality, and lament the youth of today for making him into an art house fashionista rock star. And yet, there is something very unsettling about Murakami's runaway popularity, given the (what ought to be) controversial content of his work.

Walking amidst the pram-crowded galleries and listening to a cooing mommy say, "Look at the Lady!" pointing her child's eyes up at a life-size Sailor Moon-like figurine, I thought, Yes, look at the lady indeed. I then began to fret over what she might say upon walking into the next room and seeing the cowboy, a rather well-endowed male character with his hand planted firmly on his erect cock, which spews a curling lasso of ejaculate, and his partner, another Sailor Moon, only nude (shaven, of course; all Murakami femmes have disturbing child-like pundenda), with hyperbolic breasts shooting out a hula-hoop of milk. Children have a tendency to ask innocent questions like "What is that?" which, in this context, turn out to be rather awkward.

So why are these prams here? Perhaps for the room papered in bright flower-power wallpaper (plasticky as Con-Tact), or for the cheerful, bright, and squat mushroom sculptures, which wouldn't be out of place in McDonaldland. Perhaps for the $95 plush flower pillow with embroidered happy face available at the gift shop? How do these quasi-liberal Brooklyn parents reconcile these cheery, Sanrio-like faces with the face of Inochi, the pubescent plasticine android whose sexual awakening is featured in a series of commercials for, well, himself, in which he stares at a room of half undressed ten year old girls with the same Sailor Moon pigtails and innocent button noses of the first statuette Mommy pointed at? (The same pigtails and innocent button nose, might I add, of the female statuette with not just a shaven but also crimson and folded. . . cleft. . . which collapses, Transformer-like, into the shape of a fighter jet.) And why, in the surprisingly contentious Louis Vuitton boutique (contentiously located smack in the middle of the art), are there only bags with cheerful plump cherries, rather than, say, Chris-Ofili-like flying pussies? (For what else, for a mind like Murakami's, could the cherry be?)

I don't find Murakami to be the source of this oddity; I don't feel comfortable crediting him with much (he is the latest in the series that reads Duchamp, Warhol, Koons, except that his three predecessors innovate and define in a way that Murakami does not (and I must concede that these men produced progressively more schlock to bog down their otherwise fascinating oeuvres)). What fascinates me here is more the public's embrace of this work, in spite of its rejection of other equally or less sensationalist artists like Ofili (one might argue that Ofili's sexuality, as a black man, is much more threatening to a white audience than Murakami's sexuality, as an Asian, but that would just be plain old school, i.e. wrong-headed). Likely it was the combination of sex with religion (and religion with elephant dung) that so broadsided Giuliani and his anti-Sensation brigade ('twas also the Brooklyn Museum, if I remember correctly), but still, does the sexualization of children not offend anyone anymore?! (I am not speaking as a reactionary here, only calling the reactionaries to arms!)

There are a few paintings that, believe it or not, have some merit (I counted two, and they were similar); they feature the D.O.B. mascot (if you're not familiar with it, you soon will be upon seeing the show) floating on a Hokusai-like wave of sea foam across a Jasper Johns-meets-Gerhard Richter background, spread across three conjoined canvasses that, ever-so-slightly, recall the Japanese screen. D.O.B.'s mouth is open and toothy, not unlike the teddies designed by Stanley Donwood and Tchock for Radiohead's mid-career albums (of which I was always extraordinarily fond). But referencing aside, what here is Murakami's very own? What is iconic? Aside from the concept of grandiose kitsch (and Koons has been there, done that), there is nothing to cling to. I'm in and out in under 40 minutes, and spend more time out on the lawn, blinking under the summer sky and playing with my toes, than I did with the art. For shame.

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