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Is It Art?

by habituallychic

11 . 12 . 07

My post about chrysanthemums yesterday reminded me of the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, who uses smiling chrysanthemum cartoons in his work. Murakami is all the rage these days and currently has an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles that has attracted celebrities and art enthusiasts, as well as serious shoppers, due to the freestanding Louis Vuitton store inside. Once again, another example of art and fashion colliding with the help of some serious brand management.

“If you look at the world of art people interested in contemporary art, they are usually interested in luxury,” said Yves Carcelle, the president of Louis Vuitton. “The bridge between the two worlds is more and more obvious.” Mr. Carcelle underscored the point by noting that 60 of the MOCA Murakami bags were sold in the show’s first week alone.

The first deluxe boutique to be integrated in a formal exhibition, the Murakami-Vuitton store is “a terrific example of not just the artist embracing commercial success but proactively going after it,” said Elizabeth Currid, the author of “The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art and Music Drive New York City” (Princeton University Press, 2007). In this kind of venture, everyone profits, Ms. Currid said. “You are creating a new kind of product, one that expands the economic horizons of all the parties involved.”

There has been a lot of comparison between Takashi Murakami and Andy Warhol as well. Murakami calls his studio the factory just like Warhol and has a team of assistants who actually “create” his art which also blurs the line between high and low, similar to Warhol. For some reason, the fact that Andy Warhol had assistants creating silk screens doesn’t bother me but within the contemporary art world of today, I am bothered by an artist who doesn’t actually make his own art. I know that many of the old masters had assistants to help them and that architects don’t actually put up the buildings they design but when does an artist who doesn’t actually create art stop being an artist and start becoming an art director? Especially, when much of the work is done with the aid of PhotoShop and computers.

Michael Darling a curator at the Museum of Contemporaty Art says, “the fusion of art and computing led Murakami to a pictorial style that rejects the illusion of depth and perspective. Dubbed superflat, the approach isn’t entirely new – Warhol’s paintings often read flat – but Murakami has something else in mind. Superflat captures the aesthetics of our technological age: PDAs, digital billboards, flat-screen TVs. Superflat also refers to the leveling of distinctions between high and low. Murakami likes to flaunt that he can make a million-dollar sculpture and then take the same subject and crank out a bunch of tchotchkes.” I’m curious as to what everyone else thinks. Is it art or a product?

Comments Closed

  1. Suzy November 13, 2007 | 5:26 am

    Good question, and I think I’m with you, I have a bit of a problem with someone like that being called an “artist”. Can you call Luis Vuitton handbags art? I guess you can, but not in the same way…so maybe these products are in the same category?

  2. Pieter November 13, 2007 | 7:11 am

    I consider him a graphic designer with an entrepeneurial streak. The moment you call it art you take it beyond the scope of criticism. After all, it’s one persons opinion or self-expression? This all seems like another case of “the emperors new clothes”. A bunch of tasteless people who want to seem cultured by buying handbags customised with cartoons (handbags knocked-off ad nauseum). Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE his illustrations, but there are heaps of phenomenally talented graphic designer/ graffiti artists doing fantastic illustrations/vinyl toys/apparel customisation. I suppose it’s easier for the layman to embrace something quite mundane when it’s under the guise of art.
    I’m probably way off base and completely out of order…I speak(or in this case, write) as I think.

  3. Pieter November 13, 2007 | 7:12 am

    I mean ad nauseam not nauseum (my spelling sucks sometimes..

  4. designdna November 13, 2007 | 1:58 pm

    i think i agree with pieter for the most part.

    i am happy for anyone making a living whether or not their art or music or design speaks to me personally. that said, his work does feel like product to me.

    interesting post.

  5. Alice Olive November 13, 2007 | 2:36 pm

    I read about this exhibition the other day and it is interesting to see just how blatantly art/fashion/business/profits are all combined here.

    From a cynic’s viewpoint, I think part of the reason Murakami’s Louis Vuitton bags will become (if not already) bankable/collectable ‘Art’ is because they’re being marketed as such. In a way, we’re being told they are Art with a capital ‘A’ just by their inclusion in this exhibition. Art by association.

    I don’t know the answer to where that line is when an artist becomes the director either. You’re right – it is a fine line.

    Your last question, is it art of a product? I can only give a subjective view. Much of Murakami’s work doesn’t appeal to my aesthetic (nor do the bags). However I don’t think my response necessarily means his work isn’t art. It sounds like I’m sitting on the fence abit here…. Somehow it reminds me when you see a painting or a photograph at an exhibition and overhear someone say to their companion, “Oh, well I could have done that.” Completely dismissive. I always want to say, “Well, you didn’t. Someone else chose to.”

    Sometimes just the fact that someone has chosen to present/create/interpret a point of view is enough for me.

  6. Uptown Arts November 13, 2007 | 4:55 pm

    I think you might enjoy this documentary on Murakami. Here’s the link:


    I, too was sceptical about his work, but after I saw the doc and heard him explain why he does what he does and the meaning of his work, I understood him much better. I think his work is a different kind of art, with a very strong social statement.

    Love your blog! 🙂

  7. Habitually Chic November 13, 2007 | 5:07 pm

    Thanks to everyone for weighing in.

    Art is subjective so there is definitely no right or wrong answer. It’s up to everyone to decide what they like and what they consider art.

    Uptown Arts, thanks for the link. I will definitely have to check it out. I will admit that it does sometime take an artist describing their work to make you understand where they are coming from and appreciate it so much more.

  8. ChintzAcademy November 14, 2007 | 2:01 am

    Yes, there are parallels between the work of Warhol and Murakami, and justly so. It’s art AND commerce. that’s the whole idea…hello, there is a LV boutique in the middle of the exhibit! Genius.