Conspicuous Consumption

Takashi Murakami
Takashi Murakami

Initially I wasn’t too wary of the up-and-running Louis Vuitton boutique in the middle of Takashi Murakami’s retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Modern Art Notes rang the alarm bell early, but it's not like commercial enterprise didn’t have a place in the artist’s career before now.

A good deal of Murakami’s time has been spent developing his commercial art studio, KaiKai Kiki LLC. He has designed more than 500 mass-produced items, including cell phone caddies, key chains, stationery and t-shirts. When he was just starting out he even branded himself as “first in quality around the world," appropriating the logo of a model kit company in Japan.

Artistically Murakami is at his best when he riffs on popular culture and products using high-art traditions. He’s heavily influenced by Japanese cartoon and comic illustration featured in anime and manga publications, but also incorporates 12th-century Japanese scroll painting techniques in his work. All in all, the collaboration with Louis Vuitton seemed like a fairly organic offshoot of Murakami’s established artistic acumen.

What has me bothered is the lack of distinction being made between art and objects of consumption. Paul Schimmel, curator of the Murakami show, was quoted in ArtNews last month as saying “I liked the idea of addressing the commercial work as rigorously as the so-called high art."

I would disagree that putting this season’s must-have Louis bag in the middle of an art exhibition, no matter how strong the relevant ties to design or fashion, demands the same intellectual rigor needed to evaluate the rest of the show.

Schimmel continues, “…the experience of purchasing the luxury goods has an emotional resonance in the same way you have an experience seeing a great painting or sculpture."

What a misunderstanding. Art is a catalyst—for thought, for reaction, for emotion, for change. That is where the power of an art object lies. The object itself is secondary. Price tagging art and putting it on the same plane as a shopping spree is shortsighted and a bit silly, because the endgame of true consumption is deterioration, destruction and obliteration. Art is just not subject to the same vagaries.

("Army of Mushrooms")

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