Description: Takashi Murakami (b. 1962)
DOB in the Strange Forest (Red DOB)
Fiber-reinforced plastic, resin, fiberglass, acrylic and iron
60 x 120 x 120 in. (152.4 x 304.8 x 304.8 cm.)
Executed in 1999. This work is one from an edition of three plus two artist's proofs.
Exhibited: Tokyo, Parco Gallery, DOB's Adventures in Wonderland, 1999 (illustrated in color).
Annandale-on-Hudson, Bard College, Center for Curatorial Studies Museum, Takashi Murakami: The Meaning of the Nonsense of the Meaning, June-September 1999, p. 81, no. 44 (illustrated in color).
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Takashi Murakami: Made in Japan, April-September 2001, p. 4 (illustrated in color).
Paris, Fondation Cartier and London, Serpentine Gallery, Takashi Murakami, 2002-2003, pp. 24-25 (illustrated in color).
Torino, T1 Torino Triennale Tremusei, The Pantagruel Syndrome,
November 2005 March 2006, pp. 9-10 (illustrated in color).
Provenance: Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris
Acquired from the above by the present owner
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Executed in 1999, DOB in the Strange Forest (Red DOB) plunges the viewer into the hallucinatory, cutesy yet twisted world of Takashi Murakami. Surrounded by a ring of crazy, eye-covered mushrooms, the titular character Mr. DOB, the most favored and frequent protagonist in Murakami's imaginary universe, appears plaintive or panicked. Is his hand raised to entreat someone to do something? Is he begging for directions to plot his way out of the titular forest, or is he addressing his surroundings in a dialogue with nature? Is he about to take off, an absurd mini superhero determined to save the day, as is implied by his posture and the dynamic lightening bolt he has in place of a tail? Or is he fearful of some unseen, impending doom? Certainly, although he is in the "strange forest" of the title, he seems little concerned by the mushrooms under whose watchful gaze he stands. In DOB in the Strange Forest, Murakami presents us with a fragment of an implied narrative, as though some still from an anime movie had been transformed into loud and lurid three-dimensionality.
In both scale and appearance, DOB in the Strange Forest has a toylike quality that heightens its sense of kawaii, the cuteness that has become so cultish in contemporary Japan. And the epicentre of this cuteness is clearly DOB himself. This character, a tangential self-portrait, derives his name from a far earlier Murakami work called Dobozite Dobozite Oshamanbe, a sign sporting those words he created, reacting to the works of Jenny Holzer and his ilk. The words themselves are deliberately absurd, involving slang and puns and smut and the signature gag of an old Japanese comedian; at the same time, there is a telling openness in the slangy variation of the word dobojite, which means, "Why?" In DOB, this word, this particular query that continues to reverberate through the D and the B in the ears and the O of the face, making this odd little character a cipher afloat in our strange, chaotic, media-saturated age.
As well as being a self-portrait, Murakami has explained that he intended DOB as a self-portrait for the Japanese people. In doing this, he is trying to create an artform that relates to modern Japan, that addresses the problematic history and cultural development that followed in the cataclysmic wake of the Dutch traders, Admiral Perry and General MacArthur. The tridimensionality of DOB in the Strange Forest is ironic, as Murakami's search for a new all-Japan aesthetic had resulted in his Superflat Manifesto. The title refers to a range of concepts, not least among them the traditional lack of illusionistic depth in Japanese art, the flatness of the digital screens of modern culture and design, and the flatness of Ground Zero following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nakasaki. Does the ghost of Little Boy, the nickname for the bomb that fell on Hiroshima, echo through DOB himself? Certainly, the mutated mushrooms, which look immensely poisonous, conjure the clouds that rose over those cities as a result of their decimation.
As with so many of the constituent parts, characters and themes of Murakami's art, the mushrooms allude to an incredible range of references. They first appeared in his paintings having been inspired by Ito Jakuchu's 18th-century Compendium of Insects and Vegetables, and they share a certain playfulness with the Taisho-era artist Takehisa Yumeiji's portraits of poisonous mushrooms. They also recall various characters and elements from Manga, anime, Western fairytales and cautionary tales about poisoning; they suggest sensuality and even sexuality; they are mysterious, appearing overnight; they can be delicacies, yet they can also be an indicator of rot or a cause of hallucinations -- indeed, in DOB in the Strange Forest they appear to be the product of them. The multifariousness of meaning, reference and implication makes them a very potent and deliberately problematic symbol within Murakami's imaginary realm, which he only heightens with their garish colors and all-seeing eyes. People sometimes say that a portrait's eyes follow the viewer around the room; in DOB in the Strange Forest, Murakami deliberately amps up that feeling a thousandfold.
Murakami derived his concept of the Superflat from both the modern and historic worlds, from today's and yesterday's culture in Japan. He searches for an authentic artistic voice for the new Japan, propelled by his own training in traditional Nihon-ga painting. Intriguingly, Nihon-ga was itself an invention, a form of ultra-conservative art that had been consolidated as a reaction to the increasing influences from abroad that were already flooding the country. In the cultural invasion in the wake of the Second World War, many vestiges of traditional Japanese culture that survived were now washed away by the relentless momentum of American imports. Old values, old styles, old subjects were either effaced, or adopted the form and content of the new artforms. Even the animation for which the Japanese are now so renowned, which has become so tied up with their own notions of modern identity, and in which DOB in the Strange Forest so clearly has its roots, was a reaction to and adaptation of the Disney programming filling the airwaves and cinema screens of the nation. It is telling, in this light, that DOB himself, while clearly taking his visual impetus from the anime characters, corporate mascots and videogame protagonists of modern Japan, has a more than coincidental visual echo of Mickey Mouse in his round ears. Is this the result of the splicing of American and Japanese animation DNA, or does DOB's outfit pay tribute to the cheap mementoes of visits to Disney World or Tokyo Disneyland, implying that he is an alien tourist lost in the Disney universe? While DOB in the Strange Forest openly refers to this flood of American culture, it nonetheless presents the viewer with a new hero for a new era, an artform that deliberately and gleefully shuns Western notions of High and Low Art to present us with art that is clearly rooted in today's Japan.