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"Superflat: An Exhibition of Provocative Contmeporary Japanese Art"
2001-11-10 until 2003-03-03
Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington
Seattle, WA, USA United States of America

Superflat brings Tokyo cool to Seattle. An exhibition of cutting-edge contemporary Japanese art, Superflat surveys a tendency to combine techniques of mass production and media manipulation with a traditional Japanese emphasis on outline and flat areas of color-blurring the boundaries between art and illustration. Organized by artist Takashi Murakami, Superflat presents works by 19 contemporary artists working in Japan today. The exhibition features work in a variety of media including painting, photography, works on paper, video, computer animation, fashion, cartoons and sculpture.

The term superflat was coined by Murakami to describe the simplified and increasingly two-dimensional forms that have become the staple of a hip, new visual language employed by a generation of young Japanese artists. Whereas the tendency toward superflatness can be traced to the simplified aesthetic of contemporary pop culture and the Japanese cartoon culture of manga and anime, Murakami suggests a direct line of historical descent from the stylistic conventions of 17th, 18th and 19th-century Japanese prints, among other historical sources. Superflat evokes other flattening or elisions, such as the blurring of existing borders between established genres and between mass and high culture. The defiant attitude, outrageous habits and hybrid styles of this younger generation of artists cross yet another boundary, that of the adult establishment. Superflat artists continually contradict what is considered appropriate behavior or good taste in mainstream Japanese culture. Further, the artists in Superflat work between the established boundaries of their respective genres, whether between fine art photography and commercial portraiture, between painting and illustration or between street fashion and sci-fi theatrical costuming.

Henry Art Gallery Chief Curator Elizabeth Brown explains, In Japan, Generation X or twenty-somethings are known as shinjinrui, literally 'new human race.' This exhibition presents the artwork of the shinjinrui, young artists fueled by a culture saturated with Hello Kitty and other cute symbols, computer games, anime, and manga, and often motivated by a desire to revolt against the very consumerism that those symbols represent. Though kawaii or cute imagery is predominant in Japanese pop culture, many artists corrupt it with sexual and violent content. Multi-media artist Yoshitomo Nara, and Murakami himself, have made an enormous impact on international contemporary art with works that combine adult or complex content with ostensibly angelic protagonists. Bome's female characters embody fantasy personas such as the schoolgirl and cat woman while Henmaru Machino's drawings of hybrid humans are highly sexualized. Digital illustrator Chiho Aoshima's cute girls often cannot escape the violence that is common to popular animation and video games. Artists in the exhibition who work directly in manga and anime demonstrate the deep hybridization of these media.

Superflat includes new projects as well as work from the 1980s and 1990s. Murakami has assembled some of the most exciting artists working in Japan today. In addition to a site-specific banner by Murakami, the exhibition includes paintings and sculptures by Nara; video and installation by Mr.; photographs by Chikashi Suzuki, Masafumi Sanai and SLEEP; pictures by Chiho Aoshima and Aya Takano; figures by Bome; fashion by 20471120; anime by Yoshinori Kanada and Koji Morimoto; the graphic design firm groovisions, and many others.

Superflat is an exhibition that began small-in Parco Gallery, Tokyo and subsequently Nagoya-then grew larger as Takashi Murakami reconstituted it for the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art and its selected tour: the Walker Art Gallery in Minneapolis and the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle. Through this exhibition, the provocative art called superflat has become a global phenomenon. Superflat ends its acclaimed tour at The Henry Art Gallery.

Superflat was organized by Takashi Murakami for The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. This exhibition has been made possible in part by the Pacific Design Center and the Peter Norton Family Foundation with in-kind support from Canon, Inc. The Henry Gallery Association, Inc. gratefully acknowledges the generous support of the following sponsors: the Allen Foundation for the Arts, Nintendo of America Inc., the Blakemore Foundation, Rebecca and Alexander Stewart and the Henry Art Gallery's Contemporary Art Fund, with special thanks to Speakeasy Network, Seattle Weekly, KEXP 90.3 FM and Northwest Mannequin.

Henmaru Machino.
Untitled (Green Caterpillar's Girl), 1999.
Canon digital print.

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