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Gallery acquires spectacular Takashi Murakami painting

Monday 28 October 2019

Takashi Murakami Japan Supernatural: Vertiginous After Staring at the Empty World Too Intensely, I Found Myself Trapped in the Realm of Lurking Ghosts and Monsters, 2019, acrylic resin paint, gold leaf, glitter, 300 × 1000 cm. Art Gallery of New South Wales, Foundation Purchase 2019. ©︎ 2019 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Photo: courtesy Kaikai Kiki

The Art Gallery of New South Wales has commissioned a major painting by world-renowned Japanese artist Takashi Murakami for its collection.

The Gallery’s Foundation has funded the acquisition of the work, which will be unveiled in the Gallery’s Japan supernatural exhibition, part of the Sydney International Art Series. Exploring imagery of monsters, spirits, ghosts and demons in Japanese art from the 1700s to now, the exhibition opens on 2 November 2019.

Murakami has titled his new work Japan Supernatural: Vertiginous After Staring at the Empty World Too Intensely, I Found Myself Trapped in the Realm of Lurking Ghosts and Monsters. The title pays tribute to the forthcoming exhibition while alluding to Murakami’s own position as a contemporary artist exploring the imaginative worlds of historical Japanese art and confronting the spirits and beings within it.

The painting was created in Murakami’s studio in Saitama prefecture north of Tokyo, using 502 individual silkscreens to generate a richly layered surface. At 3 × 10 metres, it is the largest single painting to enter the Art Gallery of New South Wales international collection.

Well known for his pop culture-infused paintings and sculptures, and his collaborations with musicians such as Kanye West and Billie Eilish, French fashion house Louis Vuitton and designer Virgil Abloh, Murakami is also a curator and collector with a deep knowledge of and respect for Japanese art history.

With its writhing yо̄kai (monsters), stampeding samurai, seething surface, intricate patterning and giant feline spirit, Murakami’s new painting is among his most dynamic and dramatic responses to Japanese art history and in particular to the ‘pictures of the floating world’ (ukiyo-e) that flourished in Edo period (1603-1868) Japan, especially those of Utagawa Kuniyoshi, some of whose masterpieces are featured in the Japan supernatural exhibition.

Inspired in part by the Art Gallery of New South Wales exhibition theme, Murakami’s painting is emphatically of the 21st century while invoking history. Murakami has amplified the visual intensity of Kuniyoshi’s prints, creating a field of action in which everything is mutating and moving. The eyes and mouths of the warriors have been violently distorted and flooded with synthetic colour, suggesting that the monstrousness of the yо̄kai is present in the human characters.

Among Murakami’s reference points in creating the work were the samurai films of Akira Kurosawa. The painting also demonstrates a shift in the content of Murakami’s work following the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami of 2011, which prompted him to re-engage with traditional Japanese stories of spirits and the afterlife.

The Art Gallery of New South Wales Foundation has funded the acquisition from income generated by its endowment, which was first established more than 30 years ago and continues to grow through donor support.

Japan Supernatural: Vertiginous After Staring at the Empty World Too Intensely, I Found Myself Trapped in the Realm of Lurking Ghosts and Monsters is the most significant contemporary acquisition supported by the Foundation for the Gallery’s collection.

“The Gallery is extremely grateful for the generous philanthropy of our Foundation supporters in funding this epic painting for the Gallery for the benefit of all our current and future visitors,” Art Gallery of New South Wales director Dr Michael Brand said.

“Murakami has not just created a new work for the Gallery. He has taken on a new subject and delivered a work that is at once spectacular, intricate, energising and surprising – and unlike any work he has made previously.

“It is wonderful, as an art museum of the Asia-Pacific, to add this stunning contemporary painting by a Japanese artist to our collection and also to look forward to connecting it, in future displays, with our rich collection of historical Japanese prints and paintings.

“Takashi Murakami is an artist we have long hoped to see in our collection. I first met him in 1996 and have followed his career avidly ever since so this acquisition is something very special for me too,” Dr Brand added.

Murakami, who described the creation of this work as a “heavyweight” challenge, remarked recently after its completion, “I have hoped and tried my best to arrive at a good theme and composition… I am happy that great inspirations came to me in the end, truly like a miracle, and I was able to achieve a good composition.”

As part of the Gallery’s expansion – the Sydney Modern Project – the Art Gallery of New South Wales Foundation is working closely with the Gallery to enhance its collection of works to be shown across both buildings.

Chair of the Foundation Board, Kiera Grant, said: “The Foundation is thrilled to fund this brilliant work by Takashi Murakami for the collection. This is an exciting time as the Sydney Modern Project gets underway and we are working closely with the Gallery to support strategic acquisitions for the expanded Gallery.”

The Foundation is playing a lead role in the Gallery’s forthcoming art acquisition campaign. Several generous pledges have already been made to the campaign, to be officially launched in 2020. These gifts will be announced in due course.

About the artist

Takashi Murakami was born in 1962 in Tokyo. One of the world’s most renowned and unmistakable artists, he is the originator and proponent of Superflat theory, which reconstructs Japanese traditional paintings and the origin of Japanese contemporary art through visual premises of anime and manga. Murakami is also a collector and curator whose deep interest in Japanese art history led to the publication Battle Royale!, a series of ‘jousts’ between Murakami and esteemed Japanese art historian Nobuo Tsuji. The final instalment of his Superflat trilogy of curated exhibitions, Little Boy: The Arts of Japan’s Exploding Subculture (New York, 2005), was awarded The Best Thematic Museum Show in New York by AICA that year. His first retrospective, ©MURAKAMI (2007 – 2009) toured four cities in North America and Europe, starting with the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. He has since been holding major solo exhibitions around the world, including at the Palace of Versailles (2010), Al Riwaq Exhibition Hall (Doha, 2012), the Mori Art Museum (Tokyo, 2015), the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art (Moscow, 2017), and Tai Kwun Contemporary (Hong Kong, 2019). The artist continues to attract a wide-ranging audience beyond contemporary art through his multifaceted activities including collaborations with musicians and designers and his focus on street culture and contemporary ceramics.

About the Sydney Modern Project

The Art Gallery of New South Wales’ expansion, the Sydney Modern Project, will create a new art museum experience across two buildings connected by a public art garden. Located next to the existing Gallery, the new building will almost double the space for the display of art, enabling the Gallery to show more of the State’s outstanding art collection alongside the best Australian and international exhibitions. The innovative and sustainable design, by internationally renowned architects SANAA, brings together art, architecture and landscape in exciting new ways in one of the world’s most beautiful cultural precincts. The project is due to be completed in 2022, and the Gallery will remain open during construction.

The $344 million project is the largest public-private partnership of its kind to be achieved to date in the arts in Australia. Together with the NSW Government’s $244 million in funding, the Gallery has attracted unprecedented philanthropic support, exceeding its fundraising target of $100 million to support construction of the new building.