A Chance Meeting with Murakami in Bilbao

Image and video hosting by TinyPicAfter four days of surf, sand and visiting little remote pueblos in the countryside of Cantabria (section of Northern Spain) with the boyfriend I was insistent that we veer off the dirt road path and explore the modern, urban side of the North which led us to the heart of Bilbao.

Nestled in a low valley, Bilbao, as it is known in Basque, is home to one of the four Guggenheim Museums. The Frank Gehry designed structure is located on the Bilbao River and rises out of the ground in a swirling, hulking kind of way. Its monstrous and beautiful at the same time and looks completely foreign, even alien-like juxtaposed to the non-descript office buildings that surround it.

If only it weren’t raining I could have easily passed the time wandering around the structure investigating its curves and edges but what we came across inside made up for the dreary, gray day outside.

Low and behold we lucked out an encountered a full blown retrospective of Takashi Murakami. Who cares if art isn’t your forte, if fashion is then I am sure you know who the man is and you just might own a piece of his work. Remember those uber-popular Louis Vuitton bags with the brightly colored cartoonish characters emblazoned on the traditional LV canvas? Well, that was Mr. Murakami. The year was 2003 and every fashionable female from 5th Avenue to Canal Street were rocking the real and the not-so-real Murakami printed handbags. However, this Japanese genius is much more than a fashion house collaborator and has been honing his art skills and commentary on contemporary Japanese society, the legacy of its cultural tradition and the affect of the WEST (USA) on Japan since the 90’s. His work spans a broad range of art forms that include painting, video, industrial design, sculpture, anime and on and on and on…

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At first glance his brightly colored paintings, cute character sculptures (Mr. Dob, Kaikai, Kiki) and icons (mushrooms, daisies) seem harmless, childlike and amusing however as you go deeper below the slick surface of his graffiti-style, superflat paintings you see something menacing, evil and at times, erotic evolving. Thank goodness the subtext was a little too subtle for the kiddies that accompanied their parents to the exhibition. They were doing their best to not touch, grab or bear-hug the cuddly creatures on display. I don’t blame them. The vivid colors, slick surfaces and bulbous shapes lend themselves to being caressed. Even I couldn’t help but giggle quietly at times. How could I not when confronted with a life-size male anime sculpture ejecting semen from his penis and using it as a lasso circling his head. I kid you not. No pictures were allowed or I would surely share this with you. It was like walking through manga-conceived Alice in Wonderland fun-house. However giggle-inducing his work is, it is also mind boggling how Murakami has been able to combine contemporary Japanese pop culture like manga and anime with Zen-painting, Buddhist imagery, 12th-century picture scrolls to create a seamless blend of high and low art as well as an interesting relationship between high art and mass culture. Ha! Now laugh at that.

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Also for those of you who aren’t necessarily into art collecting but have a penchant for consuming other goods, Murakami is an artist to keep your eye on outside of the art world. It has been said his work is predicated on seeing art as a part of the economy. He is obsessed with breaking down the barrier between art and commerce regularly working on projects that bring the two together. The Louis Vuitton collaboration was a great example of that. Other examples can be seen with his work for Levis, Issey Miyake, Kangol all of which were facilitated through his design house, Kaikai Kiki Co that develops mass produced merchandising goods (carpets, t-shirts, inflatable toys, etc) as well as animated video projects.

For more info on the Guggenheim in Bilbao go to www.guggenheim-bilbao.es. Its worth visiting if only to admire the building itself . Then take a quick tram ride over to old town Bilbao for pintxos (Basque tapas; generally a bite-sized vegetable, meat or fish concoction atop a piece of bread) and vino. Then if you have more time, like a week or so, drive west to Santander, San Vicente Baquero, Santillana de Mar to viewthe breathtaking countryside. It looks a lot like Ireland with broad sweeping valleys covered in lush vegetation and jagged cliffs that drop off into the ocean. Depending on your route you will come into contact with tiny little villages with one main road and cattle traffic jams. Shopping sprees will consist of homemade jams, cheeses and cured meets along with local artisan crafts.

-Espana Fly

Read the rest of her opinions here.

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