It’s been more than a decade since the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami introduced his “Superflat Manifesto.” In the world of Asian art, its effects continue to grow like wildfire. Murakami named his philosophy for the perfect flatness of the printed page or the computer screen, and once declared it analogous to the flatness you get by merging all the layers of an image in computer software (like hitting “Control-E” in Adobe Photoshop). He also defined superflat as a superficial and uniquely Japanese graphic style derived from manga, anime and video games, and he has since expanded this aesthetic idea — by designing high fashion handbags for Louis Vuitton, structuring his Kaikai Kiki studio as a mini-corporation and launching his own Gesai art fair — to embrace branding, copyright protection and other aspects of consumer capitalism. From the very beginning, he has also envisioned it as a sort of vehicle for cultural imperialism, a way for a Japanese worldview to contribute to a global future.
Superflat has won fans in the West, but its greatest influence has been among younger generations of Asian artists, especially in the Confucian societies of east Asia — Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. There is now a formidable body of Asian pop art, and the style forms the core of the exhibition Future Pass, a collection of 180 works by 130 artists now on display at the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts.
The curator, Victoria Lu (陸蓉之), is a Taiwanese cheerleader for Asian pop, who was on the founding board of MOCA, Taipei and served as the founding creative director at MOCA, Shanghai. She has never been shy about her pop proclivities, and as a curator comes across more as an impresario than as a theorist. In her catalog essay, Lu compares Lady Gaga to a 21st century Picasso and declares that the film Avatar “will prove to be a milestone in human civilization.”
What: Future Pass (未來通行證)
When: Through July 15
Where: National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts (國立台灣美術館), 2 Wuquan West Rd, Sec 1, Taichung City (台中市西區五權西路一段 2 號), tel: (04) 2372-3552
On the Net: www.ntmofa.gov.tw
Lu launched Future Pass last year in Venice, where it ran concurrently with the 54th Venice Biennale. It has also toured to Rotterdam, and will travel to the Today Art Museum in Beijing later this year.
In truth, this is a scatterbrained and highly uneven exhibition, but it allows one to imagine both a history and a movement. The forerunners of Asian Pop were Japanese artists, here represented by Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara and Yayoi Kusama. Kusama, at 83, is the oldest and though her fame has mainly come in recent years, she exhibited alongside Andy Warhol and Claus Oldenburg in New York in the 1960s. She is known for applying polka dots to everything, including pumpkin sculptures on enormous scale. Murakami meanwhile gained fame in the 1990s with his own pop icon Mr. DOB, a mutant Mickey Mouse with exaggerated fangs and multiple eyes. Nara also emerged in the 1990s with naive paintings of sinister looking little girls. These forebears paved the way for the current Internet generation, giving them license to draw freely from low-art styles and reproduce them as high art.
How is the new wave different from original 1960s American pop art? A catalog essay by NTMOFA researcher Iris Huang (黃舒屏) points out that Andy Warhol stripped pop culture images of their meaning, while the young Asian pop artists use media images to implant their own meanings, creating a kind of remix. So while Warhol’s prints of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis or Mao Zedong (毛澤東) were generic, conceptual statements about fame, today young Asian artists manipulate pop icons and styles in a personal way to create their own identities.