Friday, April 18, 2008

Why Murakami? Back in Brooklyn for Japan/America panel, this Saturday, 4/19

[Roland Kelts delivering the keynote address for the Brooklyn Museum's Takashi Murakami exhibition, Saturday, April 12. Photo courtesy of Erin Silverstein.]

After last week's keynote address and my closing comments, an enterprising young reporter for Kyodo News asked me, quite reasonably: With all these wonderful manga and anime artists working for years in relative obscurity in Japan, why is Takashi Murakami the one who gets hung on American museum walls, while the others are considered 'pop' artists, banished to Barnes & Noble and Blockbuster shelves?

Murakami's uncanny ability to abstract the embedded emotional characteristics of manga and anime--the rage, violence, suspicions about kawaii or super-cute interdependencies, native postwar resentments, et cetera--is one clear reason. Like a surgeon, he seems to isolate and extract these raw states from their narrative bodies and splash them onto walls and sculptures to lay them bare.

He has also--like Haruki Murakami before him, and Nigo slightly afterwards--studied carefully the Western marketing mind-set. And I don't mean that cynically. If you come from an island nation slightly smaller than California, with half the US population crammed into your crags and valleys, you'd do well to sort out how to sell your work elsewhere.

Such light-hearted asides will be the main course of this Saturday's panel discussion at the Brooklyn Museum, April 19, starting at 2 p.m. More specs HERE.

On Saturday, I'll have on hand a beautiful new book, forthcoming from ChinMusic Press, called Art Space Tokyo (web here). I contributed an essay on Murakami's position in the Tokyo and international art scenes as a kind of impresario of the new Asian vision, and thus worth our reckoning.

But the book is worth your reckoning for other reasons: It cleanly and elegantly guides the reader to the Tokyo megalopolis's major and most innovative art venues--from big museums to rickety, perspicacious little hives--replete with easily navigable maps and among the finest restaurant suggestions known to the city. Art Space Tokyo somehow manages to be user-friendly, practical and elegant at once.

Though it's not yet officially out, it will be with me in Brooklyn on Saturday, and I'll proudly show it to you.

Despite other reservations, it seems the New Yorker's intrepid art reviewer somewhat agrees with my take on Murakami, noting that with the artist's Brooklyn Museum exhibition, "New Yorkers have a chance to absorb our new geo-spiritual fate, as provincials in a world of creative paradigms that no longer entreat our favor."


Hope to see you in Brooklyn this weekend.


Wutang said...

Mr Kelts,

You are definitely one of my inspirations for me to pursue a master degree in Japan. After finish reading your book, I have decided to apply to Keio University to study Japanese popular culture and the related industries. It would be a great honor if I could have a chance to interview you in Japan. However, I need to get accepted to the school first. I hope I will have a chance to see you in Japan :-)


Roland Kelts said...


Thank you for your kind comments, and kudos to you for embarking on your journey to study at Keio. You'd be in very fine company there--but do keep in mind other Japanese universities if Keio doesn't come through. And let me know if you're headed to the archipelago so we can make the appropriate arrangements.


Wutang said...

Do you mind if I can get your email to ask a few question? While I am applying for the KMD program at Keio, where else would you recommend to study the topic of popular culture in Japan?

My email address is, please feel free to email me if you have any concern.

best regards,