April 5th, 2005


The New York Times discovers postmodernism

Mere months after it discovered rockism, the New York Times has mapped another fixture of our era: postmodernism. What's more, the venerable newspaper has realised that Japan is a bit further along with this stuff than America is. Luckily they're not too sore about that.

On Sunday, the New York Times magazine ran a generous Japan special which included a long piece on Mr Superflat himself, Takashi Murakami. I was amazed to learn that, despite selling individual works for half a million dollars, Murakami ("the son of a taxi driver and a housewife") still owns very little, and lives like a pauper.

"The Kaikai Kiki factory complex," reports the Times, "is situated in a drab suburban district an hour from central Tokyo. One of the little buildings, without toilet or bath, is Murakami's home, in which a sleeping bag serves as a bed. Next to the shed that houses Murakami is an even smaller one that houses potted cactuses. Hybridizing cactus from seed is Murakami's hobby, one for which he has little time. Apparently he has no time for romantic or family attachments, either. ''He makes art and sleeps,'' said Dana Friis-Hansen, executive director of the Austin Museum of Art in Texas and co-curator of a 1998 Murakami exhibition at Bard College in New York. ''Some curators are really frustrated, because he'll ask for and usually get the right to sleep in the gallery while he is setting up. He'll bring assistants and sleeping bags, and they'll cook noodles there.""

The article basically took the same line I do regarding Japanese postmodernism: that since Japan is currently the most postmodern country, it's Japan we should watch for the first signs of the thing that comes after postmodernism. Here are three statements from Arthur Lubow's article which present basic postmodern scenarios, and propose Japan as just a wee bit further along with them than the West:

1. "The grab-bag appropriation, inexact simulation and accelerated speed that characterize this process no longer appear peculiarly Japanese. They feel now. We live in an age when distinctions are arbitrary, originality is devalued, hierarchies are discredited and authenticity seems meaningless."

2. "In the same way, there is no pecking order in Japanese tradition whereby an original outranks a well-made copy or a work of art in a gallery is more precious than a piece of merchandise in a shop. The time-honored Japanese worldview, in other words, closely resembles the postmodern one, in which sensations and images rain down incessantly and you have no choice but to take it all in as it comes."

3. "It may be that Americans feel they understand Murakami without conducting research because he is reacting to a hyperstimulated and decontextualized Japan that looks a lot like their own society. For unique historical reasons, the Japanese arrived earlier at an ahistorical worldview."

I also liked Murakami's comment on Andy Warhol. ''My concept is, anytime we do the honest thing, we get the win,'' Murakami said. ''People find it very difficult to find their honest desire. Andy Warhol did that. I love his diary: pay the driver two weeks, the coffee is too sweet, the weather is cold. It's a life. Warhol is a master artist for me because he was a really honest person.''

In the article we see Murakami fretting about transport costs (he's staging a show at the Japan Society) in much the same honest and down-to-earth (or perhaps I should say "sublunary and de-transcendentalised"?) way he did in the catalogue Summon Monsters? Open the Door? Heal? Or Die?, which instead of theory has meticulously detailed essays on how to pack and ship art, how to run an office, and so on. A bit like early Scritti Politti sleeves, which used to lay out printing and pressing costs so that new bands could follow suit with a realistic—and materialist—outlook.

Nice to see Tylor Brulé plugging Composite magazine in the same issue of the NYT mag:

"Composite magazine was founded by Masanobu Sugatsuke in 1992, during the golden age of style publishing," writes Brulé. "With a laissez-faire approach to deadlines, it suspended publication for a period, but now it's back with a new design and a more mature editorial slant. A recent issue on Berlin chronicled the city's creative community, with great attention to real estate. (As Berlin has really cheap rents, the Japanese writers were not without a touch of envy.) Publishing bimonthly, Composite fills a niche left vacant by The Face, plus you can be over 25 and find yourself reflected in its pages."

The new issue of Composite has features on "Body in Mode" and "Life With Vegetable". So that's how those over-25s stay looking so fresh: by dancing and chowing down (all gathered around a big table) on broccoli!