This survey of Takashi Murakami, the artist frequently called the Japanese Andy Warhol, has it all: immense, toylike sculptures; an animated cartoon that rivals Disney; and a fully functioning Louis Vuitton boutique (Brooklyn’s first!) selling Murakami bags. But it also elucidates the trajectory of an artist who began by recycling Japanese popular culture and then gradually figured out how to go deeper, harnessing Japanese traditions of painting, craft and spirituality. The art-commerce, high-low conundrums are fun, but the steady improvement in the paintings is the real heart of the matter. Along with the animated cartoons, which should please aesthetes of all ages, there is a moral component as well.I loved this show. You should come out to Brooklyn and see it. I've got no photos — they weren't allowed — but there's plenty of video with the artist charmingly explaining himself here.
Then, at the Guggenheim, there's "Cai Guo-Qiang: I Want to Believe":
This museumwide survey of a leading Chinese artist indicates considerable command of cross-cultural references and extreme appropriation, including a gang of sculptors remaking a classic Social Realist ensemble of life-size figures while you watch. Gunpowder is a favored material, violence a frequent motif. A stop-action installation of seemingly exploding cars hangs in the atrium space. Scores of arrows make pincushions of snarling tigers (stuffed), and there are carved-wood religious sculptures and an entire fishing boat. Videos documenting pyrotechnical land-art pieces go boom. The show has far more than its share of hollow spectacle. The scorched, mural-size gunpowder drawings that combine elements of performance art, Abstract Expressionism and traditional Chinese and Japanese painting are the most believable.Less color, less cuteness than Murakami, but equally outlandish. To me, there is far more profundity in Murakami, but I got something from those leaping clusters of life-size tigers, wolves, pigs, and cars and those drawings made from exploding gunpowder. No photos allowed here either. Go here for some video.
One quibble, and it's not Cai Guo-Qiang's fault. As I entered the rotunda, the guard handed me one of those audio-tour devices with headphones. "Do I need that?" I asked, thinking the show might have an integrated audio track that was part of the artwork. "Yes," she said, so I took it only to discover it was some earnest pedant telling me what to look at, for how long, and what to think. Ugh! Entering the up ramp — it still irks me that they started putting the shows up backwards so that we must walk up the ramp, instead of starting at the top for a gravity-assisted stroll — I passed the place where they were collecting the audio devices from people who were leaving, and I handed mine in. Those things are horrible. How are you supposed to get any good at seeing if someone is always talking in your ear, telling you what to see?