Murakami Finds His Art Too Pricey, Market ‘Scary’: Interview

Murakami Finds His Art Too Pricey, Market ‘Scary’
"DOB in the Strange Forest" by Takashi Murakami, a 1999 FRP Resin, fiber glass and acrylic installation work, is shown at the Brooklyn Museum in New York. Photographer: Kazuo Fukunaga/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd/Brooklyn Museum via Bloomberg

A giant buxom blonde stands bowlegged at the Gagosian Gallery in London.

“3-Meter Girl” (2011) is a towering sculpture by Takashi Murakami, a Japanese artist whose works are derived from comic strips and pop culture. She’s on sale for an undisclosed price in the sexually charged exhibition.

Murakami, wearing army pants, his hair in a pigtail, is dwarfed by the barrel-chested lady. Does he find her alluring?

“Not personally,” he says. Investigating trends in youth sexuality, he was told by a comic-book author that “giant is really sexy” and that young generations are drawn to tall, powerful women with “big heads, big hair, big breasts.”

In the same room are naked-women triptychs and two- and three-dimensional close-ups of male and female genitalia. They’re Murakami’s contemporary take on the nudes and explicit images produced by Japanese artists in centuries past.

Eroticism, he says, cropped up in his own work after he traveled to the West. The 1990s New York art scene looked “like porn” to him: Sex was inside the museum and linked to beauty, unlike in Japan, where it was in magazines and books.

Money is another favorite theme. Murakami’s company Kaikai Kiki Co. markets merchandise derived from his art; the Gagosian Gallery has a stack of folded cutouts that visitors can take.

Vuitton Bags

More controversially, Murakami, 49, has designed monogrammed bags for Louis Vuitton. They were on sale in a boutique that was part of his 2007-8 shows at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and the Brooklyn Museum.

“I love business,” says the artist, who’s interested in evoking money and the market in his art (though he’s no longer keen on designing bags, he says).

His 1998 sculpture of an aroused male, “My Lonesome Cowboy,” sold for $15.2 million at Sotheby’s in New York in May 2008, a record for Murakami. He is part of a group of artists, including Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst, whose prices fell as much as 50 percent during the 2009 financial crisis.

Still, Murakami is baffled by what his art costs today. He says he discussed prices with dealer Larry Gagosian before the show, and hearing the figures, told Gagosian that they were “a little bit expensive.” According to Murakami, Gagosian replied, “No, this is big, this is big!”

Big and Scary

At last month’s Art Basel contemporary fair, Murakami says, an art adviser told him that prices were now substantially higher than before the September 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. It’s “bigger and bigger,” says Murakami. “Very scary.”

Does he think he’s too expensive? “I think so, yes, honestly, yes,” Murakami says. At the same time, his expenses are high: He employs about 200 people, and has costly travel and communications bills.

Surprisingly, the artist says he lives in a small apartment. “I cannot buy my home yet,” he says. His salary is “a small amount of money.”

The way he describes it, Murakami’s lifestyle is far from luxurious: He spends his days in the studio, painting and sculpting creatures like the blonde hovering over him.

The exhibition is at the Gagosian Gallery, 6-24 Britannia Street, through Aug. 5. Information: or +44-20-7841-9960.

(Farah Nayeri writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

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