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Takashi Murakami’s character Mr DOB looks at the lighter side of existentialism

Murakami’s character Mr DOB - a hybrid of Mickey Mouse, Sonic the Hedgehog and Doraemon - is asking the existential question ‘why’ for his exhibition in Paris.

by Georgina Maddox Nov 09, 2019

Takashi Murakami (b. 1962, Itabashi, Tokyo, Japan), whose iconic works script the meeting of graphic art, pop art and high art in Japan, is back in Paris. The art city is one of his favourites to show his work in, and he is currently part of the drive to raise funds to rebuild the Notre Dame de Paris. The show titled Baka, is hosted by Gallery Perrotin; Murakami will be showcasing here after a gap of three years. His last big outing on the Paris art scene was Learning the Magic of Painting. Not to say that Murakami has been unoccupied, this new show follows several museum exhibitions throughout the world from Chicago to Oslo. 

Untitled, acrylic and platinum leaf on canvas mounted on wood panel, 56 1/16 x 55 1/2 inch, 2019 | Mr DOB | Takashi Murakami | STIRworld
Untitled, acrylic and platinum leaf on canvas mounted on wood panel, 59 1/16 x 55 1/2 inch, 2019 Image Credit: © Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy of Perrotin

The exhibition that kicked off on October 16 and is on till December 21, 2019, presents about 30 works in Perrotin’s Salle de Bal at 60 rue de Turenne – a showroom that is usually closed to the public and only available to visit by appointment; they are opening their doors to the public after many years. The large space is dedicated to Mr. DOB, the iconic character created by the artist in 1993. For this exhibition, the artist has created six new portraits of Mr. DOB in shaped canvas formed around the character’s contours. In the middle of the room, a central five-foot sculpture represents the same full-length character.

Untitled, acrylic and platinum leaf on canvas mounted on wood panel, 56 1/16 x 55 1/2 inch, 2019 | Mr DOB | Takashi Murakami | STIRworld
Untitled, acrylic and platinum leaf on canvas mounted on wood panel, 59 1/16 x 55 1/2 inch, 2019 Image Credit: © Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy of Perrotin

The design for Mr. DOB was inspired by several animated figures including Doraemon, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Mickey Mouse. His name is a derivative of the expression Dobojite, meaning ‘Why’ in Japanese slang. Accompanying Takashi Murakami in his existential questioning, the character of Mr. DOB has developed a complex psychology to the point of becoming an avatar of the artist.

Devil Ko2, FRP, urethane resins and lacquer paint, 1780cm, 2019 | Mr DOB | Takashi Murakami | STIRworld
Devil Ko2, FRP, urethane resins and lacquer paint, 1780cm, 2019 Image Credit: © Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy of Perrotin

Juxtaposing the universal innocence of Mr. DOB, the artist also created two humorous self-portraits in Mickey-Mouse shaped canvas, rendering himself in caricature. In the room adjacent to the main Salle De Bal space, the artist presents the debut showing of the sculpture Devil Ko2, the latest in his succession of hyper-sexualised, life-sized Manga sculptures, which include Miss Ko2 (1997), Hiropon (1997), My Lonesome Cowboy (1998) and Nurse Ko2 (2011). It was the erotic Manga illustrator Nishi e Da who created the original drawing of Devil Ko2 in 2004. Presented alongside the sculpture will be a photograph by Takashi Murakami, also taken in 2004, featuring a young woman dressed in a Devil Ko2 costume.

Devil Ko2, FRP, urethane resins and lacquer paint, 1780cm, 2019 | Mr DOB | Takashi Murakami | STIRworld
Devil Ko2, FRP, urethane resins and lacquer paint, 1780cm, 2019 Image Credit: © Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy of Perrotin

The implications of Miss Ko2 are a bit too obvious and perhaps not so subtle in this instance. One wishes that Murakami would move beyond these slightly tired gender stereotypes and embrace a slightly more feminist approach to Manga. Murkami constitutes a powerful voice in Japan, and to see him leaning on these stereotypes, which cast the woman as an evil temptress and the man as a humorous fool, is a bit dated. One would expect something fresh and stimulating like what we get to see in Mahō Shōjo, or Magical Girl anime, that pushes beyond stereotypical portrayal of gender stereotypes. Someone as senior as Murakami can easily afford to push the envelope without worrying about losing popularity.

View of the exhibition Baka at Perrotin Paris, 2019 | MR DOB | Takashi Murakami | STIRworld
View of the exhibition Baka at Perrotin Paris, 2019 Image Credit: Claire Dorn, © Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy of Perrotin

Two other pieces from a new series entitled the Panda Flower Ball (an ongoing series), offering a reinterpretation of a recurrent motif in Takashi Murakami’s work: flowers. On the lower level, the visitor will discover another aspect of Murakami’s work inspired by traditional Japanese painting. Two large paintings, nearly 33 feet long, and three tondos represent fish in an aquatic world, rendered in monochromatic blue tones over a pale background.

Exhibited for the first time in France, this recent series of fish paintings is inspired by an original motif painted on a vase dating from the Yuan dynasty in China (c. 1206-1368). In these works, ancient iconography combines with memories from the artist’s childhood: walks along the river with his father and the contemplation of carp fishermen. These works come from a deeper realm, touch upon his childhood, and are the backbone of the exhibition, intentionally or unintentionally.

  • View of the exhibition Baka at Perrotin Paris, 2019 | MR DOB | Takashi Murakami | STIRworld
    View of the exhibition Baka at Perrotin Paris, 2019 Image Credit: Claire Dorn, © Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy of Perrotin
  • View of the exhibition Baka at Perrotin Paris, showcasing Devil Ko2, 2019 | Mr DOB | Takashi Murakami | STIRworld
    View of the exhibition Baka at Perrotin Paris, showcasing Devil Ko2, 2019 Image Credit: Claire Dorn, © Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy of Perrotin
  • Takashi Murakami at Perrotin Paris, 2019 | Mr DOB | Takashi Murakami | STIRworld
    Takashi Murakami at Perrotin Paris, 2019 Image Credit: Claire Dorn, © Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy of Perrotin

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About Author

Georgina Maddox

Georgina Maddox

Maddox is an independent critic-curator with 18-years-experience in the field of Indian art and culture. She blurs the lines of documentation, theory and praxis by involving herself in visual art projects. Besides writing on immersive art for STIR World, she is a regular contributor for The Hindu and Architectural Digest.

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