Interview Magazine has maintained an amazing track record of interviewing a heavyweight cast of personalities as their latest interview features the king of Superflat art, Takashi Murakami. The interview was conducted by Alison Gingeras, chief curator of the François Pinault collection at the Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana in Venice, Italy. The interview begins casually discussing Murakami’s current relationship with dogs and goes further in-depth over a four page interview. The whole interview can be seen over at Interview.
GINGERAS: So we can add dog breeder to the list of all of the various things that you do. You’re a painter, sculptor, animator, gallerist, an entrepreneur . . .
MURAKAMI: Being a breeder is so very hard! [laughs] You’re working with DNA.
GINGERAS: Well, your work is so much about hybrids, isn’t it?
MURAKAMI: I don’t think I’ve realized that until now. I’m always very interested in breeding. Raising cacti is breeding. My lotus plant collection is breeding. The insects are breeding.
GINGERAS: But isn’t that part of what you do visually? Especially in your most recent work—for example, the epic 16-panel painting you made for Palazzo Grassi, [727–272: The Emergence of God at the Reversal of Fate] . . . In a way, you’re cross-breeding Western, postwar art language and the Japanese superflat aesthetic.
MURAKAMI: This specific work is like a DJ style.
GINGERAS: DJ style?
MURAKAMI: You know, bringing records and mixing.
GINGERAS: But you don’t think that what you’re doing is more analogous to bringing together a Western Jack Russell dog with an innate breed of Japanese dog? I don’t think it’s like when you’re deejaying, because with that kind of mixing you know what you’re going to get. But when you make a painting, you don’t always know what’s going to happen.
MURAKAMI: Oh . . . That’s the critics’ take?
GINGERAS: Yes. [both laugh] I was thinking about the work you made for the Pop Life show at the Tate Modern, where you took a Western Pop reference—The Vapors’ track “Turning Japanese”—and retranslated it into a Japanese otaku sensibility [otaku refers to people who have an obsessive interest in things like manga, anime, and video games] in a video starring Kirsten Dunst as a majokko [magical] princess. I thought it was such a perverse and subtly complex way of making your work accessible to a public that might not know who you are—which was the case in London. Yet you weren’t dumbing it down.
MURAKAMI: When I approached the film director, McG, for this project, I proposed for him to use the Akihabara neighborhood—Tokyo’s “electric town”—as a backdrop. The film was supposed to star the Japanese otaku cult girl band AKB48, but at the very last minute, they dropped out. After they dropped out, we had just three days. So I was ready to give up.
MURAKAMI: We had the money and planning in place and I thought it would all fall through, but McG didn’t let that happen. He said, “Okay, Takashi, I have a question: Do you want to make a film or not?” So in just one day he got Kirsten Dunst to come to Tokyo, he brought in this music, and he asked me if it all fit with my ideas. It was perfect because my goal was just to introduce people to what is Akihabara and try to explain its significance to Londoners and to serious art people. I was trying to capture what was happening in Japanese kid culture. I didn’t at first understand this process of shooting a video. The whole planning happened over the phone. Three days later, McG arrived in Tokyo and started shooting. It was all done after an 18-hour shoot.
GINGERAS: Had Kirsten Dunst ever experienced this aspect of Japanese culture? Had she ever been to Akihabara? Did she know about cosplay [costume play] and all that?
MURAKAMI: No, no. She may have had some information, but she had no experience with it. I think she really enjoyed it. That McG is really talented with people. He was great at making the actress feel good and motivated. You know, McG twisted my idea so it could fit with Western expectations . . .
GINGERAS: It’s funny, because I had the impression at first that McG twisted your idea by adding this pop song to your piece. But what made it even more perverse is how you then assimilated the hybrid of the Hollywood star and Akihabara landscape in the way you made this monumental wallpaper backdrop for the video for the Tate presentation.
MURAKAMI: I had to do that. I had to make up my identity, right? [laughs]
GINGERAS: Yes and no. Your contribution to that show speaks to how, despite your being one of the most famous and popular artists working today, most people still don’t grasp the complexity of your work. It still seems that most people understand that your work is the Japanese version of Western pop art. But I’m actually captivated by the indigenous Japanese side of your work. It seems that you try to translate or make accessible this deep Japanese-ness to non-Japanese audiences. Just the other day I was talking to this art historian who was saying, “Takashi Murakami is like a Renaissance artist. He has all these different assistants and young artists working with him under the Murakami school.” And while that’s true, as you’ve said yourself, your whole model of working comes out of the Edo period [the pre- and early-modern period running from 1603–1868] and the archetype of the Temple School. I was also thinking about how Geisai [a Tokyo art fair created by Murakami to support emerging artists] is founded on an indigenous Japanese idea—that of the arts festival. It’s not the application of a Western idea of an art fair onto your contemporary reality. Does that make sense?
MURAKAMI: It’s true that I pick up many ideas from different Japanese things. The way I formed my studio and how I organize things actually came out of the model of the Japanese animation studio and the manga industry. The manga industry is gigantic in Japan. There are so many layers to the business, like making a video, making a spin-off game, cards . . .