In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow, Takashi Murakami’s exhibition of new paintings and sculptures, ends its run at the Gagosian Gallery today. The large-scale works explore the Japanese artist’s function within the contemporary art scene as he portrays Japanese religion and spirituality, the darkness of society, and artistic responses to natural disasters.
Prompted by the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear meltdown that devastated the Tohoku region of Japan on March 11, 2011, Murakami studied the work of Kano Kazunobu, whose 100 scrolls of Buddhist disciples featured frightening images of hell and suffering following the Great Asei Edo Earthquake of 1855, which killed more than 4,300 people.
Using faith and trauma as the meat and potatoes of Murakami’s message, the artist places the disciples, known as arhats, in contemporary settings that are chaotic and decadant. The Gagosian exhibition contains Buddhist and Shinto iconography, from the giant Bakuramon (sacred gate), to the larger-than-life demons, to the karajishi, the mythological lions that guard Buddhist temples.
Murakami’s paintings are bright and colorful, belying his darker themes. The cute karajishi frolic on mounds of skulls.
Isle of the Dead mixes religious imagery with disturbing manga-style characters.
Happy flowers mingle in front of skulls.
The devil is in the details: Murakami hides himself in a couple of paintings.
And this sculpture is a self-portrait of the artist.
Daruma is coated in gold leaf and took eight years to produce.
Recurring character Mr. DOB makes an appearance.
Fluctuations in Space-Time is an example of the modern technology Murakami uses in his works.
This detail of The Golden Age: Korin – Kansei harkens back to classical Japanese techniques with lacquer and gold leaf.
Murakami used a record number of staff for this exhibition at the Gagosian, employing up to 150 people who worked around the clock in shifts. The result is an impeccable look at society and spirituality in a modern setting that mixes old with new.