Takashi Murakami, ‘mushrooms eye monsters square’, 2008, Martin Lawrence Galleries

Mushrooms have been a repeated motif for Murakami and in 1999 he did a large 7-panel work titled Super Nova described by Schimmel as "dozens of different cartoonish-mushrooms, from abstract to humanoid, elegant to deformed, sweet to scary, political to animistic. At the center is a giant mushroom with fractured shard-like teeth beneath its monstrously beautiful, eyeball-covered cap; an army of smaller mushrooms is arranged in a neat horizontal band that spans the length of the composition. Super Nova serves as a compendium of Murakami's various mushroom motifs and might be interpreted as a joking reference to himself as a rising star in the art world. The title refers to a song by the British band Oasis called "Champagne Supernova" (1995) and stems form the artist's interest in how drug culture moves into the mainstream via popular music, such as with the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967).
Hallucinogenic drugs like "magic mushrooms" are often associated with spiritual awakenings, a poetic sentiment expressed in the song. Exquisitely crafted and frighteningly horrific, Super Nova is also inspired by Ito Jakuchi's Compendium of Vegetables and Insects (1790), which focuses on mushrooms, long revered in Japanese culture for their gastronomic qualities, diversity, and evocation of ephmerality. Murakami also acknowledged as a precedent the work of artisan Yumeji Takehisa, who created scarves and collectibles decorated with mushroom designs "which were very cute, but they were poisonous mushrooms."" And last but not least, though not mentioned by Murakami, there was a 1963 Japanese movie titled "Matango," also known as Fungus of Terror, and Attack of the Mushroom People (a sci-fi epic in the same vein as the Godzilla movies). The anthropomorphic quality of Murakami's mushrooms may be at least partly understood by this otaku film reference as Murakami evenutally creates a sculpture for Versailles titled Flower Matango.

Image rights: Martin Lawrence Galleries

About Takashi Murakami

One of the most acclaimed artists to emerge from postwar Asia, Takashi Murakami—“the Warhol of Japan”—is known for his contemporary Pop synthesis of fine art and popular culture, particularly his use of a boldly graphic and colorful anime and manga cartoon style. Murakami became famous in the 1990s for his “Superflat” theory and for organizing the paradigmatic exhibition of that title, which linked the origins of contemporary Japanese visual culture to historical Japanese art. His output includes paintings, sculptures, drawings, animations, and collaborations with brands such as Louis Vuitton. “Japanese people accept that art and commerce will be blended; and in fact, they are surprised by the rigid and pretentious Western hierarchy of “high art’,” Murakami says. “In the West, it certainly is dangerous to blend the two because people will throw all sorts of stones. But that’s okay—I’m ready with my hard hat.”

Japanese, b. 1962, Tokyo, Japan, based in Tokyo, Japan