Takashi Murakami – Western-style Manga Art



The world’s most successful contemporary artists also have excellent business acumen. Like the Englishman Damien HIRST and the American Jeff KOONS, the Japanese artist Takashi MURAKAMI is a clever businessman who has managed to cover every possible niche in the market by producing works that range from Fine Art pieces to cuddly toys and from fashion accessories to CD covers.

Murakami, the most famous Japanese artist in the Western world since Katsushika HOKUSAI and Tsuguharu FOUJITA, is often thought of as the spiritual successor to Andy Warhol (who he has admitted he is trying to outdo in terms of productivity). Murakami launched his Hiropon factory in 1996 which then became the Kaikai Kiki Co. in 2001. This workshop, employing roughly a hundred people working on unique pieces, limited series, derivative products, animated films and CD covers, provides Murakami with the perfect environment to satisfy his ambitions. The Kaikai Kiki effect, together with his private view at the Fondation Cartier in Paris (2002) and his collaboration with Louis Vuitton led to an impressive wave of sales. In 2003, the number of his auction transactions rose 650%, inflating his annual total auction revenue (TAR) by 258%. Indeed, 2003 was a real landmark in Murakami’s career as it was the year he started his successful collaboration with Louis Vuitton. Both parties have benefited from this joint venture: the French luxury label Louis Vuitton launched a new campaign to boost sales in its leading market, Japan, while Murakami’s work became durably fashionable, appearing in the street of numerous cities around the world. The spectacular growth of his annual TAR amply illustrates the artist’s success: in 2002, his TAR was less than €1m; by 2003 it had reached €3m and by 2008 it peaked at €21.4m!

Murakami’s spectacular 2008 TAR was achieved largely thanks to My lonesome cowboy, a 2.54 metre high sculpture of a Manga-like satyr triumphantly ejaculating. The piece made headline news in May 2008 when it fetched a personal auction record of $13.5m (€8.7m) in New York, far higher than the estimated price range of $3m to $4m. There are four copies of Murakami’s lustful cowboy, one of which is kept in the Punta della Dogana, the recent Venetian exhibition sanctuary for the François Pinault Collection. In 2009, the famous collector further expanded his collection at the Palazzo Grassi (Venice) when he acquired Murakami’s 7-metre painting The Emergence of God at the Reversal of Fate.

Over the July 2009 /June 2010 period Murakami’s auction revenue contracted substantially, despite his 25th place in our ranking of contemporary artists by total auction revenue. In effect, his TAR shrank from $8m in the July 2008 /June 2009 period to $3.4m. This past year, Murakami, who enjoyed a particularly speculative market during the bubble, has had a very quiet year at auctions: of his 223 pieces offered for sale between July 2009 and June 2010 – most of which were affordable multiples – 9 pieces fetched over €100,000, but none reached seven figures. However, although Takashi Murakami may not be generating spectacular sales results; he is back in the limelight thanks to his theatrical exhibition in the Château de Versailles which runs until 12 December 2010.

Murakami fans who cannot afford his paintings or large sculptures will be able to console themselves with the multitude of miniature figures and lithographs which are produced in very large editions and range in price from ten to several hundred euros. Also, his screen prints have flooded the global market and today represent 63% of his works sold at auction.
In Murakami’s work the distinction between fine art and derivative product is deliberately fudged; one can even pick up examples of his series of screen-printed skateboard at auctions. Expect to pay between €800 and €1,000 if you want to skate with one of these pure Poku-style skates.