Posted:Sep 24, 2014

KAIKAI KIKI Interview with Takashi Murakami

Kaikai Kiki, run by international artist Takashi Murakami, is an art production company that involves itself in artist development, organizing and hosting the GEISAI art festival, and myriad other art-related enterprises.

With the recent launch of a brand new English website, they look set to expand their already blooming international presence. I talked to Takashi Murakami about Kaikai Kiki’s current activities, and plans for the future.

Photos by miget - Kaikai Kiki artists Aya Takano (above) and Mr. (below)
Kaikai Kiki consists of a studio and office, and so far it seems like you don’t have any sort of exhibition space for your artists.

We’re building a gallery in the basement of the main Kaikai Kiki office, which is almost complete. However, I’m thinking of making this a private space limited to exclusive visitors and the press, rather than an open, public gallery.

Why is this?

Our biannual GEISAI art market already caters for the mass, public audience. So I wanted to make a contrast between the very public GEISAI versus the new, private exhibition space. Essentially, I only want people who truly understand and appreciate art to come to my gallery.

You once suggested that anime and manga are the epitome of uniquely “Japanese” art. Kaikai Kiki’s artists also seem to strongly lean towards this anime taste.

It just so happened that most of the aspiring artists who came to me made anime-inspired art, so it’s not like I strategically chose anime as the Kaikai Kiki flavour. It just naturally became that way. Also, I guess I’m not too interested in educating artists who make visually conceptual art. I guess when I pursued the essence of Japaneseness in my own way, this is what I came up with.

Do you think that this sort of anime-influenced, pop aesthetic will still dominate the Japanese art scene in the future?

Take the manga scene: The early 1990s was the height of shonen-manga (comics for boys), with Shonen Jump selling over 6 million copies and “Dragon Ball” influencing people’s world view. This movement completely overshadowed the presence of shojo-manga (comics for girls). But recently, shojo-manga like “Nana” and “Honey and Clover” are being made into films, and generally becoming a social phenomenon. In the same way, the art industry also experiences these shifts in trends, albeit on a smaller scale, so it’s difficult to predict the future. But I do hope that Kaikai Kiki can survive till the end with the style we have established for ourselves.

Do you have any plans to adopt more artists at Kaikai Kiki?

Art is on the verge of becoming very big business right now, so if there we find artists who have potential to exploit, then naturally we will bring them aboard. Just like record labels have their own individual traits, our studio also has distinct characteristics. Rather than forcibly breaking away from this, we’d like to expand and operate in our own natural way.

You also have a Kaikai Kiki branch in Long Island, New York. What sort of activities is this branch involved in?

We have an office and studio in the same building. It’s a very large studio. Most of Kaikai Kiki’s business is based overseas. The staff at the NY Studio gather information, meets with key figures, and handles requests for immediate creation and repair of artworks. I also intend to show uniquely Japanese artworks in the gallery, like ceramics, or works by Japanese celebrities.

Do you intend to promote Kaikai Kiki artists in the international market in the future?

I attended the Basel art fair in Switzerland this June, and was very surprised to find that the art market has exploded. I mean, really exploded, like, BOOM! Everything and anything is selling like mad. As long as it’s considered “art”, the art fans lap it up, whatever it is. There were many different artists selling work of various mediums and tastes, but the attendees didn’t really seem to notice; they hoarded tons of works as if they were in a state of starvation. The first day’s sales totaled 40 billion yen, and over 140 patrons came on private jets. It really is becoming a massive industry.

It made me wonder whether the boom of the music circa the Beatles was like this. Back then, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan exploded, and things like making their own record label, going on world tours, and big festivals like Woodstock were just beginning. This also spawned an infrastructure of producers, managers and the like. In this light, I think the current explosion of the art market is fully armed with the infrastructure of mobility, where people and artworks can be moved safely and cheaply, or else luxuriously with the help of individual private jets. Through this, people can discover one-of-a-kind, unique works from the world market. In an age when the world is at our fingertips, I think that we’re now able to see art as a “commodity” that we can own for ourselves. Talented artists will be very much in demand from now on, for sure.

So does this mean the Japanese art market will also explode?

Wait till next year, then you’ll see for yourself. There’s no way of ignoring such an incredibly massive wave. Going back to my musical reference, when I was a kid, we used to buy EP records or taped songs off the radio. But then the CD was invented. Suddenly you were able to play high-quality sounds, and the music industry again exploded. And then came things like Napster, which was riddled with copyright issues but helped regain that same feeling of taping songs off the radio. I guess the legal answer to this is iTunes. In any case, the form might change but as long as you have an established infrastructure, industries can continue to expand.

So will the art boom become a worldwide phenomenon?

That’s right. Think about it – going to an art fair on a private jet and buying artworks is so cool. A couple of these people come to GEISAI too. And what they’ll do with the artwork is either give it to friends as a gift, or they might have a house party to boast their latest finds. Basically, art collections are an expression of your personality. I have no doubt that this sort of lifestyle will eventually infiltrate Japan too.

Takashi Murakami, thank you for your interesting insights!

Visit the Kaikai Kiki website here

(Translation: Lena Oishi)

Lena Oishi

Lena Oishi

Born in Japan in 1982, grew up in England and Australia. With a BA in Media and Communications and MA in Cinema Studies, she now lives in Tokyo as a freelance translator and occasional editor. Works include VICE Magazine, Japanese editorial supervision of "Metronome No. 11 - <i>What Is To Be Done? Tokyo</i> " (Seikosha, 2007), and translation for film and art festival catalogs. She can also interpret simultaneously if you give her enough candy. Lena likes making her eyeballs bleed after watching way too many films while eating ice cream in the dark.