There is a thought-provoking article in a yesterday’s (Feb. 16, 2016) issue of the Japan Times about Takashi Murakami, the artist behind the Superflat movement (this is how it is often referred to, but it is more like a style, a concept of or approach to art). More precisely, the article is about his collection of things, and his unconventional ideas, as a collector, about connoisseurship in collecting (the author of the article, John L. Tran, likens Murakami’s sensibility as a collector to that of Wall-E). I identify with Murakami’s perspective, outlined in an excerpt from the article below. From the start, this Re-Envisioning Japan project has never been about superlative or canonical collecting, but rather an attempt to tap into a cultural and social zeitgeist through meanings embodied by things. I have never thought of this project as an exercise in questioning what determines art, but it is definitely about questioning the arbitrary nature of determining cultural value. Here is the excerpt:
[Murakami’s] “connoisseurship” is not based on buying up canonical pieces, but more akin to the wanderings of Wall-E, picking through the artefacts of modern life, hoping that if enough data is amassed it may be possible to better understand the human condition. . . .The stated purpose of the show is to bring up big issues; “What is art?,” “How is the value of art determined?” and “What is a collection?
. . .in the hope of taking a short cut through the unresolved issues of postmodernism and the ruins of high culture’s ivory tower, I ask, “What is not art?”
Murakami replies with a parable: “There is a very strange guy, Sakata-san, who runs an antique shop in the Mejiro district. When I say ‘strange,’ I mean he’s a genius, because he finds new meaning and new beauty (in things). In the last 100 years the Japanese idea of beauty comes from rich people, like, for example, Muneyoshi Yanagi who founded the mingei (folk art) movement: He found Korean craft objects and chose — this is good, this is not good.
“Sakata san, he comes from the left-wing, he’s not rich, a kind of activist. So he’d be walking along the road, see a good stone and pick it up, put it in the store for a $100. It’s a new kind of lifestyle; he found from the garbage new beauty in the cheapest things.”
So, the answer to the question “What is not art?,” I ask, is not thinking, not processing?
“That’s it,” says Murakami.”