Takashi Murakami's tasteful new exhibition makes a persuasive argument for the importance of the gallery space. Murakami's retrospective at The Geffen Contemporary last winter-the same show is now on display at the Brooklyn Museum-was a sea of sex complexes, porno, bathroom humor, smiley faces and commercial glamour. The scale of the museum space made the retrospective's exorbitance seem decadent rather than alluring and the Geffen's galleries felt like a cul-de-sac of undirected audacity. But Davy Jones' Tear, Murakami's current exhibition at Blum and Poe Gallery, doesn't have any of the brazen exorbitance of the retrospective. It does, however, have all of the pop culture shrewdness and sleek craftsmanship that makes Murakami seductive.
The exhibition consists of eight large acrylic, platinum and gold leaf paintings, hung so that each image has just enough breathing room to separate it from the others. Infinity, a lush sea of dripping color with a bodily blue shape in the foreground, seems freer than Murakami's past work, especially since the paint , though still meticulously controlled, actually looks like paint. Dumb Compass hangs across from Infinity, sporting a rendition of the same bluish body and looking like a hybrid between Sigmar Polke's hyper-active dot paintings and anime. The third painting in the series, Davy Jones' Tear, loses the seascape-like sense of space that characterized the other two, letting the splashes of color and pixilated shapes free-associate within the picture plane.
Infinity, Dumb Compass, and Davy Jones' Tear all respond to a creepy scene from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest in which the octopus villain plays a decrepit organ and bears his half-tortured, half-hardened soul. In the past, Murakami has tried to embody pop culture, fabricating plasticized figures and overtly decorative patterns. Now, he is expanding pop culture. His paintings put a new spin on the Davy Jones saga, translating the absurdity of the villain's self-expression into sonorous spills, drips, dots and stripes. The Davy Jones images suggest that the melodrama of the summer flick and the expressive nature of abstract painting have more in common than we'd like to admit.
The other paintings in the show similarly open up pop culture references, bringing history into the mix. Three menacing, squat portraits of the Zen Buddhist sage Daruma resemble video game villains and two landscapes reinterpret the work of 18th Century painter Soga Shohaku by adding smiley face flowers to an otherwise serene scene.
Murakami thrives in Blum and Poe Gallery. Seen in moderation and in an economical space, the crossover between consumerist imagery, cultural history, expression and tranquility becomes especially lucid. Murakami's not just indulging in the vocabulary of pop; he's making the scope of culture bigger by re-interpreting the push and pull between pop and expression.
(*Images top-bottom: Takashi Murakami, Dumb Compass, 2008, acrylic and platinum leaf on canvas mounted on board,118 x 92.3 inches (299.72 x 234.44 cm); Takashi Murakami, Release Chakra's gate at this instant, 2008acrylic and platinum leaf on canvas mounted on board, 63 x 138 inches (160.1 x 351 cm); Takashi Murakami, Davy Jones' Tear, 2008, acrylic and platinum leaf on canvas mounted on board, 118 x 92.3 inches (299.72 x 234.44 cm). All images © 2008 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd., All Rights Reserved)