Saturday, December 22, 2007

(c) Murakami at the Geffen Contemporary

photo by lesleyk

I thought I knew what to expect when I entered the (c) Murakami exhibit at MOCA's Geffen Contemporary on Thursday. For example, having seen his distinctive "superflat" blend of anime/manga meets fine art amidst psychedelic childlike images in the "Darker Side of Playland" exhibit at SFMOMA a few years back, I was not surprised to be greeted in (c) Murakami by larger-than-life sculptures of a man and woman playing with their own bodily fluids. (This particular installation was really whimsical--I love any art that gets me laughing and smiling.) However, there was a moment when I looked up from attempting to find some label copy (we wanted to see what material the sculptures were made from) and caught a glimpse of two rooms just beyond the door to the one we were in and I did literally stop and say, "Oh wow." Nice sight-lines, MOCA staff, good job!

What I saw were two of the busiest rooms I had ever seen--busy in the Victorian sense, not the roomful-of-toddlers sense. The walls of each of these two rooms was completely covered in Murakami-print wallpaper, one with "Jellyfish Eyes" in a sort of peachy color with bright blue eyes and the other with multi-colored flowers with smiley faces ("Flower Matango"). But that's not all. Canvases mimicking the wallpaper designs hung on the walls, creating a layering effect, or almost a trompe l'loeuil fresco effect, and in the center of each room were sculptures (we finally did find some label copy that told us that, yes, they were made from synthetic resin) of some of Murakami's popular trademarked characters, such as Kaikai and Kiki. I could have stayed in these sensory-overload rooms all day.

What was it about those two rooms that called to me? Well, I love any exhibit that creates such a unique sense of space that I forget that I am in an exhibit in a museum. I want to be transported. The immersive feel of the Noah's Ark exibit intentionally built that into its design--after all, it was supposed to be a playspace for kids where they could re-enact the saga of the flood. But it can be a lot more difficult to achieve that same sort of effect with an art exhibit, but these two rooms managed to do just that. Similarly, the Rene Magritte exhibit at LACMA a few months back literally put the gallery on its head by having a plush carpet that looked like the sky and a photo mural of an aerial shot of LA freeways covering the ceiling.

I suppose that the completely autonomous Louis Vuitton store smack-dab in the middle of the exhibition (MOCA is apparently not getting a cut from sales in the store) could also be seen as the creation of a unique sense of space, causing me to forget at least momentarily that I was in a museum exhibit, Except that, unlike in a regular store, not everything was actually for sale--merchandise and museum pieces were displayed almost side-by-side in identical manner, so that myself and other visitors had to keep asking, "What about this one? Is this for sale?" I suspect, however, that this is exactly what Chief Curator Paul Schimmel intended with the presence of the store, emphasizing the blurred distinction between "low art" and "high art" that Murakami represents.

In another part of the exhibit (no not the MOCA gift store or the LV store), Murakami merchandise lined the walls displayed in a fashion similar to the for-sale merchandise in the Louis Vuitton store. The funny thing was, this room in particular made me itchy to go visit the MOCA store and whip out my credit card. Imagine my dismay, however, to discover first that many of the items in the gallery were not actually for sale in the museum gift shop (in part probably because some of them were one-of-a-kind items rather than actual commercial products) and that those that were, such as the soft, plush smiley-faced flowers were about as expensive as the Louis Vuitton bags.

Perhaps the most surprising (alarming?) part of the exhibit for me were the video installations. The Inochi ("Life") project is fascinating--first a sculpture, Murakami then decided to make commercial advertisements for the sculpture, similar to ads for cars or other high-end, luxury products, however, the resultant ads are at once both poignant and slightly disturbing, focusing on some of the most awkward of moments, such as the embarrassing aspects of first-love, to signify that, "You're alive! You're alive!"

In a dark screening room, visitors all sat on the Murakami-designed carpeting to watch three short videos, the highlight of which was the first episode of Kaikai and Kiki, in which the adorable little trademarked characters fly around in their spaceship and learn the importance of fertilizer for the growth of over-sized watermelons...

All in all, what did I find at (c) Murakami? A creditable retrospective of Takashi Murakami's work since the 1990s presented in a fun manner with a few surprises along the way!

More photos:
Flower Mantango
Jellyfish Eyes
Products not for sale
Louis Vuitton store and more

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