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MFA Exhibit Review

by Vanessa Ullman

Photography courtesy of Noor Nasser

At first glance, the Takashi Murakami exhibit at the MFA is a lot to take in. From the popularized smiling flower-face print scattered throughout the museum to the crowd of patrons of all ages gathered, Murakami’s distinctive artworks are making waves in Boston.

You should believe the hype of this trend.

The exhibit starts off introducing guests to the unparalleled details of Murakami’s work in his latest creation, Transcendent Attacking a Whirlwind. The bright colors and surrealist elements of the wall-to wall canvas set the tone for the exhibit: “Expect the unexpected.”

Transcendent Attacking a Whirlwind was created specifically for the MFA exhibit and is based off of an original piece of the same title by the ancient Japanese painter Soga Shôhaku. This introductory piece exemplifies a contrast between Murakami’s “contemporary” works, and those of his artistic advisor Nobuo Tsuji. This is also the uniting factor to the exhibit’s combined modern and historical elements.

“This exhibition is the result of a thoughtful conversation among three people—an artist, a scholar and a curator—who share an unwavering dedication to presenting the full narrative of Japanese art,” said Matthhew Teitelbaum, one of the directors of the MFA, on the MFA website.

Teitelbaum added that combining artists and curators equally in developing this exhibit has also, in his opinion, successfully showcased Murakami’s skill as well as Shôhaku’s expertise in Japanese art history. The title of the exhibit, “Lineage of Eccentrics,” refers to Nobuo Tsuji’s groundbreaking own novel, which showcased works integral to Japanese art history, according to The Boston Globe.

A close study of Japanese art history translates to the exhibit itself, as Murakami is well established as a creative force in Japanese art.

Murakami’s exhibit has been open to the public since October 18, with sneak-peak at the MFA “Late Nites” series and exclusive member previews the week before.

With the exhibit gaining popularity on social media, particularly the floral room, the MFA website created a #mfaMurakami social media campaign for viewers to share their experiences with others.

Murakami expressed to the MFA his thoughts on working not only with his role model, Tsuji, but the MFA.

“I am also extremely humbled and delighted to see my own works juxtaposed with a number of works from the MFA’s collection, which have given me inspiration over the years,” Murakami said in a statement to the MFA. “At the very museum renowned for one of the largest collections of Japanese art in the world, no less.”

After the audience is introduced to both Murakami’s character work and Shôhaku’s exquisite Japanese scrolls in the opening exhibit sequences, the showcase reaches what some would consider the most well-known aspect of Murakami’s portfolio.

A boxed-in room is bursting with psychedelic smiling flowers spanning both the floors and walls. Every color of the rainbow fills up the room entirely, which is a welcome break from the dim lighting in the previous rooms.

Kawaii-Vacances Summer Vacation in the Kingdom of the Golden”, on the wall spanning the room, is perhaps what draws viewers into the gallery. A number of children entranced by the child-like nature of this room in particular, but the attendees’ ages ranged.

All ages appreciated the fun nature of the smiling flowers, and it is definitely a great moment for one to capture on camera as well.

This lightheartedness continues with Murakami’s anime drawings and continued use of bright colors. Eventually the dim lighting returns once again, which bring viewers to a darker side of the exhibit.

It is not often that lighting is used so effectively and purposefully for art exhibitions, but here, it acts as a signal, providing a clear juxtaposition between the different styles of artwork connected to one another on display.

Several highlights of the third section include the more somber "I Open My Eyes But See No Scenery, I Gaze Upon My Heart" and the massive wall-to-wall “Dragon in Clouds- Red Mutation.”

The exhibit ends swiftly with a quick stop in the gift shop, where patrons can purchase anything from smiling flower pillows to postcards of Shôhaku’s most famous works. Although the exhibition only spans a few rooms, the intricacy and technique of the artworks do not require a thorough explanation.

“I believe I have been growing as an artist to some extent, succeeding in melding Japanese art and American contemporary art,” said Murakami. “This exhibition has allowed me to present the resulting works together with the actual classical works under Professor Tsuji’s guidance. Personally, I expect this will become a foundation for future developments to come.”

Takashi Murakami: Lineage of Eccentrics is a must-see exhibit for any audience. While some may think eccentricity should be avoided, or is ineffective or distracting, it is evident from viewing a selection of Murakami’s works that it is not only a strength, but a sign of his genius.

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