Saturday, 1 December 2012

Gallery Hopping at Pedder

Murakami's smiling flowers painted on a flat "ball"
On Thursday evening I went to the opening of Takashi Murakami's first solo exhibition in Hong Kong presented by Gagosian Gallery in Pedder Building.

The lobby was packed with people waiting for the two operating elevators (the third was out of order) or they didn't want to stand around and walked up several flights of stairs to get to the seventh floor.

In the gallery we could only have our drinks in the foyer and bags had to be checked in if we wanted to wander inside.

A Buddha-esque smiley flower in the lotus position
There were lots of artsy types wearing stylish unconventional outfits, and many were Japanese, thrilled to see the artist's work displayed in the city.

I was already familiar with Murakami's work thanks to Louis Vuitton's creative director Marc Jacobs who enlisted the artist to design his smiley-faced plum blossoms on the signature LV bags. It was a hit to say the least and gave huge exposure to the Japanese artist outside his home country.

Murakami describes his art as "superflat", where it combines the aesthetics of Japanese traditional art with post-war Japanese society and culture. There are two reasons for this; one is that Japan has had a tradition of two-dimensional imagery in Japanese art throughout history and continues to this day in manga and anime. The other explanation of superflat is that Murakami makes what one considers "low art" and repackaging it as "high art". Then he repackages "high art" as T-shirts and plush toys at affordable prices.
"Superflat" combines tradition and contemporary together

His exhibition here is entitled "Takashi Murakami: Flowers & Skulls" and I returned this afternoon and it was nice to see the pieces without the crowds.

YTSL and I saw one of his pieces at the Hong Kong Art Fair back in May and so we had a hint of what was to come. He juxtaposes his famous smiley flowers with skulls, making them colourful and even glittery, simultaneously presenting joy and terror. It's an uneasiness one feels, happy to see the smiling flowers and yet there are skulls right next to them, foreshadowing their fate?

His art looks cartoonish but very elaborate in execution
There are other pieces with just the skulls alone covering the entire space and it seems Murakami is making death a beautiful thing.

But there are some other smiley flowers we enjoyed viewing, and I particularly liked the round piece that was painted to look three dimensional, and another one that was Buddha-esque with pink lotus petals surrounding a smiley face.

Murakami also presented some self portraits, cartoon portrayals of himself in various moods and again smiley flowers in the background. There are some speech bubbles that are written in Japanese, but the English translations don't seem to make much sense!

Muniz's works look like old master paintings from far away
Then a few floors down we checked out Ben Brown Fine Arts which is showing "Vik Muniz: Pictures of Magazines 2".

From a distance the pieces look like oil paintings from famous paintings created with thick brushes of paint. But on closer inspection, it's a collage of magazine images carefully ripped out and put together, many of them having significance in contributing to the meaning of the entire piece.

The collage is then photographed to create another new piece of work.

So the Brazilian Muniz isn't just a photographer -- he's an artist who works in three dimension, shooting in two.

This lemon looks like it was created with thick oil paint
Some of the images look like old master Dutch paintings such as still life against a black background, another is Edouard Manet's Bar at the Folies Bergeres, but practically recreated in a collage form.

As YTSL says, these works are examples of post-modern art, where the viewer must have some knowledge of art history to understand and appreciate the work, but then there is debate about how this kind of art is not moving the development of art forward as it depends solely on the past to exist.

A still life "painting" of flowers
I like the pieces, probably because I have some knowledge of art history and find Muniz's work interesting. The words and images tediously put together are contemporary, and yet they create or recreate a painting from the past.

Muniz not only works with magazine images, but also other unusual materials including sugar, chocolate, diamonds, dust, caviar, paper hole-punches and junk.

Takashi Murakami: Flowers & Skulls
November 29, 2012-February 13, 2013
Gagosian Gallery
7/F, Pedder Building
12 Pedder Street
2151 0555

Up close the "painting" is actually a collage of magazine images
Vik Muniz: Pictures of Magazines 2
November 21, 2012-February 8, 2013
Ben Brown Fine Arts
3/F, Pedder Building
12 Pedder Street
2522 9600


  1. Good job taking the photos! I was too unnerved by the men in suits at the Gagosian -- wish I had a more close up photo of the "Buddha-esque" smiley flower!

  2. Do you want a copy of my Buddha-esque smiley flower pic? During the opening people were taking pics of the paintings too so they didn't mind nor did they say anything when we were there...