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MURAKAMI MAKES FUN OF COMMERCIALISM.

Byline: JIM FARBER

>LA.COM

The title chosen for the Museum of Contemporary Art's eye-popping new exhibition at the Geffen Contemporary in Little Tokyo is "(copyright) Murakami." And while it may seem a little thing, that (copyright) symbol speaks volumes about the aura of big-bucks commercialism that surrounds Japanese artist Takashi Murakami.

Standing in the shadow of his 18 1/2-foot-tall, 2007 aluminum sculpture, "Oval Buddha," just steps away from the fully functioning Louis Vuitton store that is integrated directly into the exhibit, Murakami is surprisingly frank about what he sees as the bottom line in art -- at least in his art.

"There are many, many elements to my work," says the goateed 45-year-old artist. "And while it may be controversial, having a Louis Vuitton store here is a really good thing, because consumer culture and fine art look like a different world, but honestly they are the same thing. Money, money, money is a reality."

As well known in fine art galleries as he for his animated films and myriad collectibles, Murakami is Japan's answer to Andy Warhol and Walt Disney. In fact, one viewer standing in front of the artist's immense psychedelic painting, "Tan Tan Bo" (from 2001) was heard to comment, humorously, that it reminded her of "Mickey Mouse on acid."

The exhibit is divided into a series of chronologically related spaces on several levels that trace the development of Murakami's work from the early 1990s to the present. These include several installation featuring the artist's cartoon-toy-like sculptures in rooms so bright the colors seem to leap from the walls.

Murakami's sojourn into sculpture began with his 1996 anime-inspired sex bomb, "Miss Ko2." With her oversized cartoon eyes, bodice-busting breasts and show-girl legs, she personifies the Japanese obsession with nymphet sex goddesses. Her male counterpoint, "My Lonesome Cowboy" (1998), finds himself frozen in mid-orgasm. This is one of a few very graphic images in the exhibit that the museum cautions sensitive visitors about in its signage.

Murakami's guardian spirits, a pair of bulbous doll-like figures named Kaikai and Kiki, inhabit a playroom world decorated with jellyfish-eye wallpaper, while next door his whimsical sculpture "Flower Matango" (from 2001-06) sprouts like a radiant botanical rainbow.

An enclosed gallery lined with glass cases is devoted to the more than 500 collectible objects that Murakami has produced for mass consumption. Overhead cash registers hum as the Louis Vuitton bags that Murakami designed are parceled out at $700 a pop, the cheapest item in the store being a signature patterned coin purse that goes for a mere $250.

"The comparison between Murakami and Andy Warhol has often been made because they both draw from popular culture, taking those images and turning them into fine art," says MOCA director Jeremy Strick. "But Murakami is unique in many ways. And one of those is that he has not only taken images from pop culture, he has inserted his own images back into the popular realm. He is an artist of extraordinary range and ambition."

MOCA's chief curator, Paul Schimmel, is openly in awe of Murakami, his art and his business savvy.

"While Takashi was still in his 20s," Schimmel says, "he had the foresight to merge his identity with a manufacturer of toys. The slogan was 'Takashi, first in quality around the world.' He even turned it into a stamp that went onto the back of his paintings. Murakami represents a truly 21st-century vision that does not separate between geographies, between high and low culture, between traditional and popular."

It's hard not to be awestruck by Murakami's creations. The sheer magnitude of his output is astounding. The originality, as well as the synthetic aspects, of his vision are intriguing. And his technical mastery of his various mediums is at the highest level. Whether it's one of his enormous "Super Flat" paintings, his playful animated films, or his transformer female sculptures who are part woman, part "Star Wars" X-wing fighter -- Murakami represents the artist as phenomenon.

Jim Farber, (310) 540-5511, Ext. 416

jim.farber@dailybreeze.com

"(copyright) MURAKAMI"

>Where: Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, 152 N. Central Ave., downtown Los Angeles

>When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday and Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; through Feb. 11.

>Cost: $8, $5 for students and seniors, children under 12 free, also free 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday. (213) 626-6222. www.moca.org.

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(1 -- 2) The Takashi Murakami exhibit at the Geffen Contemporary includes his new 18 1/2-foot "Oval Buddha," above, and a sculptural depiction of his pink "Kaikai" character, right.

(3 -- color) Takashi Murakami
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Title Annotation:LA.COM
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 4, 2007
Words:779
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