Earthquake Interpretation

Upon entering the Gagosian Gallery, you are surrounded by four white walls. On one of these walls, in simple black, block letters you can read the words “Takashi Murakami: In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow.” The simplicity of the exhibit title’s presentation was both minimalistic and striking. However, after taking a left into the first room of the exhibit, you can see that the white walls surrounding Murakami’s artworks serve as a necessarily complacent backdrop to his overwhelmingly colorful art pieces. Influenced by contemporary Japanese culture, Takashi Murakami showcases exquisite craftsmanship in his depiction of the chaos behind the Great Tohoku Earthquake of 2011.

Takashi Murakami was born in Tokyo in 1962. He attended the Tokyo University of the Arts with the intention of acquiring the necessary drafting skills to become an animation designer. However, throughout his studies, Murakami established his interest in cultural entrepreneurship. This allowed him to foster his skills as a critical observer of contemporary Japanese society, which serves as a primary inspiration for most of his artworks. More specifically, his recent pieces are influenced by the Great Tohoku Earthquake of 2011. The works currently on exhibit in the Gagosian embody Murakami’s rationalization of such natural disasters. In a recent interview, Murakami stated that “Natural catastrophes and earthquakes are things caused by nature. Such chaos is natural, but we have to make sense of it somehow, and so we had to invent these stories. That is what I wanted to paint.”

Murakami’s conformation of these “stories” is clear in the strikingly dark themes of his work. In constructing his art pieces, the Japanese artist creates a stark contrast between dark imagery and effervescent coloring. The first room you enter when touring the gallery features four works hanging on the walls. The poster-like design used by Murakami has a background of vibrantly colored smiling flowers and skulls with the words “HOLLOW” and “DEATH HATE I” printed in a graffiti-like design on top. The juxtaposition between the imagery of the background and the message depicted on the poster set the tone of the rest of the exhibit. In his remaining works, Murakami similarly utilizes this distinction between color and context to showcase the chaos of the Great Tohoku Earthquake of 2011.

The second room you enter when touring the exhibit serves as the main attraction. This is truly where Murakami exhibits the contrast between high and low, ancient and modern, oriental and occidental. At the center of the main room, there is a destroyed Japanese temple, which establishes Murakami’s theme of oriental vs. occidental. While the temple itself serves as a major source of beauty in the exhibit, the destruction imposed on its walls give off a very anti-oriental, or occidental sentiment. The temple also provides an interactive portion to the exhibit. While the artworks present throughout the gallery are guarded by security in order to prevent anyone from touching them, exhibit-goers are able to walk through and touch the temple. Positioned behind the battered temple, there is a painting featuring several large skulls stacked on top of one another. While the skulls are filled in with a dark black acrylic, the background is filled with shimmering colors. Nevertheless, the bright color palette serves to depict increasingly dark imagery such as a disfigured man standing in a sea of deformed children. The man in this particular portion of the image has swirly, yet sharp hair, which extends in a horizontal direction.


Several of the other pieces within this room of the exhibit also contain horizontal extensions around the head areas of the creatures. At the right end of the main room, there are two sculptures of large and imposing creatures. Their horizontal head extensions were in the form of horns and sharply-edged ears. The swirly hair, horns, and sharp ears of these creatures give off a vibe of psychological instability and a general sense of insanity. It is a subtle way to depict the chaos of the unraveled society being portrayed.

Takashi Murakami’s untraditional representation of the chaos caused by natural disasters is part of a new era of art. Recently, artists have been breaking boundaries by showcasing chaotic events in beautiful ways. Murakami’s latest exhibit is definitely a part of this movement. While the imagery presented in his works is both somber and creepy, his unique presentation of these images is quite beautiful. In addition to the pristine artistry present in Murakami’s works, the exhibit itself is presented in a manner, which allows for maximum artistic impact for viewers. Each room within the gallery is organized to provide optimal viewing pleasure. In the center of every room, there is an outstanding sculpture or structure. In the main room this was the destructed Japanese temple. In the surrounding rooms, there were sculptures of unique creatures coated with a shiny metallic finish. Encircling these center structures were Murakami’s two-dimensional works.

Murakami’s vision, inspiration, and attention to detail make this exhibit appropriate for audiences with any level of artistic knowledge. The clear juxtaposition between dark imagery and vibrant colors will allow any exhibit-goer to feel equally enticed and unnerved.