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These New Murakamis at the Brooklyn Museum Are So New the Ink May Not be Dry

Minowa, Kanasugi, Mikawashima, No. 102, Left by Hiroshige. Right by Murakami, detail of the playful figure Murakami included in his version


By J. SCOTT ORR April 12, 2024

At the Brooklyn Museum: Murakami’s Take on Hiroshige and Van Gogh

Hiroshige, the 19th-century Japanese woodblock art master, created the piece Plum Estate Kameido, no.30 as a wood-block print in 1857. Then, in 1887, Van Gogh copied it in oil on canvas. Now renowned Japanese artist Takashi Murakami has copied both the original and Van Gogh’s copy using silk screen.

Murakami created the works, along with more than 100 others, to accompany a showing of the Brooklyn Museum’s treasured complete set of Hiroshige’s 100 Famous Views of Edo, which opened last week. Murakami faithfully recreated the entire set of Hiroshige works along with two Van Gogh pieces, altering the size, sprucing up the colors, adding a bit of texture and some playful accents, but otherwise largely sticking to Hiroshige’s 175-year-old script.

A group of four pieces from the Brooklyn Museum’s treasured complete set 100 Famous Views of Edo by Hiroshige

Hiroshige created 100 Famous Views of Edo just before his death in 1858, depicting scenes of everyday life, people, landmarks, birds, and animals in 19th-century Edo, today’s Tokyo. The Brooklyn Museum’s set, one of the world’s finest, has not been seen in 24 years. Murikami’s set, meanwhile, is on display for the first time.

Murakami was subtle in reinterpreting Hiroshige’s iconic designs, bringing Van Gogh into the mix through copies of his rendering of Plum Estate and Sudden Shower Over Shin-Ohashi Bridge and Atake (Ohashi Atake no Yudachi).

From a distance, Murakami’s version of Plum Estate appears to be an identical, though greatly enlarged, copy. But look closer and you’ll see added textures resembling brush strokes or palette knife work, tiny sparkles of light and infusions of brighter colors and shading. It seems the artist who describes his pop art work as “superflat” wanted to add a bit of depth to the work of his predecessor.

While Murakami is well schooled in traditional Japanese painting styles, he is best known for drawing inspiration from contemporary Japanese art forms like manga and anime to create his pop art renderings of smiling flowers and characters like the grinning Mickey Mouse look-alike Mr. DOB. But it may have been the profound influence Hiroshige had on European artists, especially Van Gogh, that most intrigued Murakami.

Plum Estate Kameido, no.30, by, left to right, Hiroshige, Van Gogh, and Murakami

“One of the main things he knew about Hiroshige was that Van Gogh copied Hiroshige. He admits that when he looks at Hiroshige he’s often looking through a filter of Van Gogh. You would think he’s Japanese, he grew up with Hiroshige, but no, he can’t escape that Van Gogh approach,” curator Joan Cummins said in an interview with Whitehot.

Like all Hiroshige’s Edo prints, Plum Estate is small, slightly more than a foot tall. Van Gogh grew the work to a height of almost two feet. Murkami greatly enlarged both: his copy of the Van Gogh work is more than six feet tall, his rendering of Hiroshige’s original is truly monumental at more than 11 feet.

In some pieces, like his rendering of Hiroshige’s 1857 work Minowa, Kanasugi, Mikawashima, No. 102, Murakami drew on his playful nature by adding a tiny cartoon monster who peers up from a small grassy island in the work’s lower left corner. Similar phantoms make cameos in most of the larger Murakami pieces.

Cummins said Murakami added the little pop arty flourishes, including hidden cartoon characters, “for people who might feel that there’s not as much Murikami here as they would like.”

Cummins said the exhibition came about as museum planners decided to show its set of Hiroshige’s Edo prints. When they reached out to Murakami, they were floored by his over-the-top offer to recreate the entire set.

“When we decided to do this show and put our set out, we reached out to him and said would you ever be interested in being involved in this and we thought maybe he would send us something that already existed. He said I’d like to try and remake some Hiroshige prints and do his own twist on them,” she said.

“Initially he was going to do like six big ones. Then he started doing it and realized that for his own purposes he wanted to do the whole series,” she said. 

Like Hiroshige, who created more than 8,000 prints in his lifetime, Murakami worked fast to get his copies completed in just five months. “These are brand new and in many cases it’s a miracle that the ink’s dry. He finished these about a week ago,” Cummins said. 

The exhibition, 100 Famous Views Of Edo (feat. Takashi Murakami), runs through August 4 at the Brooklyn Museum. WM


Scott Orr

Scott Orr is a career writer, editor and a recovering political journalist. He is publisher of the East Village art magazine B Scene Zine. He can be reached via @bscenezine, bscenezine.com, or bscenezine@gmail.com.

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