February 23, 2007

Murakami's Balloon

The Margulies Collection in Miami has one of Takashi Murakami's DOB balloons. Murakami is a well-established Japanese conceptual artist. His work is cute to look at, inspired by Japanese popular culture and comics. DOB is a mascot that Murakami created as his alter ego. It resembles Mickey Mouse, and appears in the form of sculpture, little objects and as we see here, a balloon. It is called DOB, as "D" and "B" make up the ears and the letter "O" is the face. I read that the name is short for a phrase that makes references to Japanese pop culture. DOB appears thruoghout Murakami's early work in different types of settings and evolves from an angry character to a cute one. This evolution parallels Murakami's own, from expressing the male otaku culture in his earlier work to exploring the lighter and cuter aesthetic of the female culture. The male otaku culture is shaped by sexually charged young men reading comics and watching TV superheroes. Otaku also carries the guilt and shame caused by Japan's experience with WWII.
If you did not know anything about Murakami, you would think of his work as light and cute children's comics material; but it is loaded with heavy historical and cultural references. That's what makes him so important, his ease with mixing high and low culture within a popular context.