Artwork © 2019 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All rights reserved. Photo: Josh White
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Artwork © 2019 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All rights reserved. Photo: Josh White
Artwork © 2019 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All rights reserved. Photo: Josh White
Artwork © 2019 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All rights reserved. Photo: Josh White
Artwork © 2019 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All rights reserved. Photo: Josh White
Artwork © 2019 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All rights reserved. Photo: Josh White
Artwork © 2019 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All rights reserved. Photo: Josh White
Artwork © 2019 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All rights reserved. Photo: Josh White

Takashi Murakami‘s latest exhibition “GYATEI²” is currently on show at LA’s Gagosian. The exhibition features all-new works by the Japanese artist and also offers an insight into how his famed Louis Vuitton collaboration came about.

In the What Did the LV Project Mean to Me? piece, the artist details the story behind his now-iconic Louis Vuitton multicolor monogram. After getting flown to Paris last minute for a meeting with the brand’s then-creative director Marc Jacobs, Murakami worked all summer on the design, merging traditional Japanese family crests with his previous work.

When the collection was finally set to go on sale, Murakami held an exhibition of paintings using the same monogram. “I believe that after my death, a day will come when the Louis Vuitton Multicolor Monogram paintings will earn the highest recognition,” Murakami writes in the piece, revealing that Virgil Abloh remembers the work as one of his very first art experiences.

Read the full story behind the collaboration below.

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The Multicolor Monogram pattern was born out of my collaboration with Louis Vuitton. In 2002, I simultaneously held two exhibitions at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris: my solo show, Kawaii! Vacances d’été! on the first floor, and a group exhibition I curated in order to explore the state of post-war Japanese art, titled Coloriage, in the basement. My 40-persons team, Kaikai Kiki, a completely disorganized organization in name only at the time, flew in from Japan, and with the help of Galerie Perrotin’s Emmanuel Perrotin and just a handful of assistants he had then, managed to pack everything I wanted to do in these shows. On the opening day, I have somehow managed to displease the Foundation’s director Hervé Chandès and half of my staff quit. I returned home to Japan dejected, wondering whether this was really what I had hoped for. As I was busy trying to recruit replacement staff, Marc Jacobs reached out to me, inviting me to collaborate with him for Louis Vuitton. Not only that, he asked me to come to Paris right away, though I had literally just returned from Paris. Really? So I asked my staff what they thought, and the young women among them immediately insisted, “You must do it!” with sparkles in their eyes. That’s how I ended up going to meet Marc in Paris four days after I received his email. Since Marc asked me to come all the way and it made my female staff’s eyes shine, I understood this to be something significant. When I met Marc in his office at the Louis Vuitton headquarters, he told me that he wanted to renew the brand’s monogram and wanted me to come up with ideas with him; he said he wasn’t asking me to design characters or anything like that. The meeting, however, lasted all of 15 minutes. What? I was then taken on a tour of what turned out to be their factory/museum, where I learned about the history of Louis Vuitton. What what? So I went right back to Japan, thought of various plans, and started to email ideas to Marc—at which point I learned that he and the entire Louis Vuitton were away for summer vacation. 👉 Continue…

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👉 Back then, I had no familiarity with such Western norms and cultures, so once again, I was taken back. I decided to spend the rest of the summer preparing for the project, to be ready when they returned. As I had been told at the museum that the history of their monogram had originated in Japanese family crests, I thought of merging old Asian patterns predating such culture of family crests in Japan. I bought a lot of books (I recall that the online search functions back then weren’t powerful enough for me to sufficiently look these things up on the internet) and prepared some proposals, combining some historical patterns from Southeast Asia and China with the Louis Vuitton monogram. Meanwhile, Marc emailed me out of the blue during his vacation to say, mysteriously, “This is cute!” with his sketch of a panda-like character from Tan Tan Bo Puking, a painting that was on view at the Cartier Foundation featuring my main character, Mr. DOB, and its many variations. What? I thought he wasn’t interested in characters, so why panda? Wondering if he liked the colors in the painting as well, I started incorporating the colors from the panda character in the monogram and sent it to Marc. “Beautiful,” was his immediate response. Wow! Seeing that Marc liked the direction I was going, I designed various characters and sent him variations on the colorful monogram, and Marc started to give me specific feedbacks and instructions. All the while, I continued to work on merging the Asian patterns with the monogram. Finally, the vacation season was over and our communication intensified. With the September fashion week looming, things quickly started to fall into places and I responded to various requests. Several versions of Multicolor Monogram were quickly finalized, with and without my signature eyeballs and on white and black backgrounds, and another with cherry blossoms characters. We still had a little bit of time until the show, so I casually proposed an idea of floating some balloons shaped like the newly created characters in the event space, and it was realized. The show was held successfully, and to my relief, it was generally well received. 👉

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👉 But I questioned myself what the point of this project would be, to me as an artist, if this was all there was to it. And so I decided that I had to make the newly colorful monograms into art, in the form of paintings. The items introduced at the runway show would be turned into products in the next six months, so I knew I had to do an exhibition of my Multicolor Monogram paintings to coincide with the product release. I also told myself that I had to produce paintings and sculptures featuring the panda and other characters from the collaboration. So one day, half a year after the Paris runway show, I held just such a solo show at a commercial gallery in NY. The works were received and sold well, and Louis Vuitton was kind enough to promote the show. They also supported a major group exhibition curated by Francesco Bonami later that year at the Venice Biennale, titled Pittura/Painting: From Rauschenberg to Murakami, 1964-2003. Now the stage would move to the Venice Biennale, which would eventually lead to this Artforum cover. While artists from around the world were working on presenting elaborate exhibitions for this festival of art, on the streets of Venice, fake versions of the Multicolor Monogram bags were being sold. The then-editorial staff of Artforum, young Scott Rothkopf, now the Senior Deputy Director and Senior Curator of the Whitney Museum of American Art, apparently saw a photo of these fake bags among the many images sent to him and had a proper photographer go and reshoot it (at least I seem to remember hearing such an anecdote). And that was how this photograph came to adorn the cover of Artforum, the foremost art review magazine. Perhaps Scott Rothkopf understood that the fake bags sold on the streets of Venice comprehensively encompassed the twisted relationship between authenticity, fake, art, commerce, and more. I was filled with gratitude! I truly thanked heavens for my incredible good luck. I felt that alas, finally, a Japanese artist has managed to join hands with the Western art world and, if through a twisted contexture, secured a standing in the art historical context. 👉

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The “GYATEI²” show also includes Murakami cosplaying as Kanye West. The artist took to Instagram to explain the meaning behind the work, writing, “This is me, cosplaying as a character in Kanye West and Lil Pump‘s music video for “I Love It.” When I saw this video, I felt that it incorporated every single aspect of how art is appreciated and consumed, which have constantly and significantly been changing over the past 100 years.”

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<Kanye Cosplay Painting> 1. This is me, cosplaying as a character in Kanye West and Lil Pump's music video for "I Love It." 2. When I saw this video, I felt that it incorporated every single aspect of how art is appreciated and consumed, which have constantly and significantly been changing over the past 100 years. I’ve had various thoughts while working on this cosplay. 3. The answer to the question, “What is art?” may seem unalterable, yet in reality it is ever changing with time. Only a handful of iconic artists and their works survive each era to be remembered, and knowing only about such artists and works, we tend to think their universality was destined from the start; but that’s not necessarily true. While the artists live and their works are in progress, they constantly change, emerge and disappear. Whether an artist can maintain the audience’s interest over time determines whether they would become a true maestro, who ends up creating masterpieces. At the moment, masterpieces of the distant future are vying to be relevant on social media, and we are entering a new phase where this is creating the distortion in the essence of values. 4. By the way, I have been obsessed with Instagram for the past several years. From morning to night, I am looking at other people’s timelines and posting things myself; I color correct my photos and search the accounts of those I need to acknowledge and tag, sometimes taking up to two hours just to make one post. And what I consider the most important on Instagram is gossip, including fake news, paparazzi, as well as silly scandals and stories about celebrities, film and music industries, game culture, and fashion industry. There are people and pages discussing serious topics such as economic and political situations necessary for surviving in this world, how to make the world a better place, or the meaning of war and peace, but I pay little attention to those. Rather than getting upset about the fake news, I find the essence of human life, the center of its pointless, empty space, in Instagram. 👉 Continue…

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As well as pondering the meaning of art altogether, the “I Love It” video got the artist thinking about the political and creative utility of Instagram and the impact of innovators such as Abloh. Drawing from traditional Japanese painting, sci-fi, anime, and pop culture, “GYATEI²” features paintings, sculptures, films, and a stream of commercial products populated by mutating characters in Murakami’s signature style.

“GYATEI²” is on show until April 13, 2019 at the Gagosian in Beverly Hills.

If you want to see more from Takashi Murakami, watch the video below.

Weekend Staff Writer

Isabelle is an Australian writer based in Berlin.

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