Murakami and the Asian Influence

At one weak juncture of my life I purchased a “Hello Kitty” toaster. It was such an oddity, not only the bright plastic design, but the cat shaped burn marks it produced on the toast. My toaster may have been the first time the culture of Japan was to officially enter my homespace, but hardly the first time the culture has enjoyed significant influence on American culture and design.

While Japan is long known to have an interest in all things American, the long lines yesterday at an exhibit of the work of Japanese artist Takashi Murakami was testament to the continued interest in all things Japanese in the U.S. The current show at the Brooklyn Museum show includes more than ninety works in various media that span the artist’s entire career, installed in more than 18,500 square feet of gallery space.

Born in Tokyo in 1962, Murakami is one of the most influential and acclaimed artists to have emerged from Asia in the late twentieth century, creating a wide-ranging body of work that consciously bridges fine art, design, animation, fashion, and popular culture.

I haven’t at this point found my personal connection to Murakami, it may take an oddity of a consumer appliance to do that. In fact, I haven’t yet spent the time to actually see the exhibit. Instead I headed to the fifth floor, where a number of paintings and decorative arts tell a larger story of the longstanding influence of Japan and other Asian countries on design and culture in the U.S.

There an 1864 quote that would prove prophetic is displayed from James Jackson Jarvis from The Art Idea “We are a composite people. Our knowledge is eclectic… It remains then for us to be as eclectic in our art as in the rest of our civilization.”

In the 1870s and 1880s, works by William Merritt Chase, Herter Brothers and others would embrace the far east. One of the best places to get a taste for this is the Brooklyn Museum.

It’s not the first time a far-away culture came to influence American art and design. A fascination with Egypt prevailed earlier in the 19th Century, as did the influence of ancient Greece which some may argue has not subsided.

Today’s world is far removed from the time of William Merritt Chase and the Herter Brothers. In an international marketplace few cultures are that far removed. Before mass production the influence of design was unable to fully penetrate the population. Today a far greater segment of the population is within reach of say a “Hello Kitty” toaster than a Herter Brothers cabinet in its day. Murakami seems to have appeal to one who may purchase a $5,000 handbag and a simple mouse pad (gift shop items including a sunflower pillow–brought the response of ‘he certainly is a businessman’ from my friend.)

About Art After X

With the death of President Kennedy in 1963, America changed. As hard as it is to minimize that sentiment, the effect of Dallas was even greater. The same year saw the merging of the Dallas Museum for Contemporary Arts, which had been central to the art scene, and the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts. Douglas MacAgy, then the director of DMCA, not only opposed the merger, but also declined to directorship of the combined museum. The regionalist movement which had been strong for decades, was giving way to more of an interest in what was going on nationally, and internationally. Like it or not, Dallas was on the national stage.

When the Kennedy’s arrived in Fort Worth, local collectors had decorated a hotel room with internationally-renowned works. While the president and his wife learned a great deal about the ability of Texans to collect major art, there was little they could glean about the local scene in this era-defining city.

With this in mind, we have begun a project to look not back at the art scene in Dallas, but foreword from 1963. We are interviewing gallery owners, curators and others involved in the art scene then, but this will be a story told mostly through interviews with artists active in the city from that point into the 1980s.

The result will be a book with a video component.

We hope you will join us in our journey. The hashtag for the project is #artafterx and the url artafterx.com will point to the latest updates on this weblog.

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