Takashi Murakami: “In the Land of the Dead: Stepping on the Tail of the Rainbow”; Gagosian, 24th Street
Francesco Clemente: “Two Tents”; Mary Boone, 24th Street
Also: “Francesco Clement: Inspired by India”; Rubin Museum
Murakami, directing his Kaikai factory, has pushed further his superflat painted visions into a Baudrillard-like pressing of digitally-aware and aided (in various ways) plasticized layered patterns, forms and textures–with, however, the underpinnings of the artist’s early anime subjects, graphic personality and symbology (e.g., the D.O.B. character and derivatives; flowers; skulls). The popping results evoke blow-up ukiyo-e (floating world pictures) for the atomic age–a proliferation of swelling skulls overtaking mountainous lands and roiling seas along with fantastical flora and fauna. The center piece of the show is a site-constructed, faux-weathered Shinto-like shrine through which viewers may pass into the apocalyptic, sci-fi samurai surrounds. Lording over the proceedings are colossal, space-age kongorikishi (Buddhist guardian statuary) in color-bleeding, high-finish resins. Among a few chrome-cast hybrid beings scattered about is a silver self-portrait (complete with the artist’s signature John Lennon glasses) as futuristic Bodhisattva, a beacon of hi-tech artistic authenticity to mediate industrial-strength, pending doom amidst lingering spirituality and still somehow joyful, preening display.
Syncretism is also a long-standing iconographic modus operandi for Francesco Clemente, continued in his “two tents,” (literally) juxtaposed as “angel” and “devil” abodes, here. Suggesting both nomadic dwellings and carnival set-ups, the make-shift structures are comprised of fabrics printed and painted with his also characteristic Indian-inspired figuration and palette. The interiors are adorned with enigmatic, symbol-laden narratives. One features Hindu-deity-derived, eroticized nudes, languid and surreal; the other, cartoony, top-hatted “confidence” men and more lustily naked women that suggest capitalistic trickery and hegemony (one figure has a distended globe-belly). Clemente’s autonomous-seeming, hands-hewn inscrutability here and generally is a refreshingly anathema to Murakami’s obsessively controlled, always expanding enterprise, the results of which are as impressively energetic as ever in the current show, not least in terms of formal invention. Both artists mash up diverse cultural remnants orbiting around their respective haunting dream worlds.
More Clemente: It’s always cool to visit the Rubin Museum, ever creative with its contemporary diasporaic, as well as localized, historical, and traditional, South East Asian presentations and programming. A small sampling of Clemente’s work in India over several decades (1980s into the new millennium) is not quite comprehensive enough to get a handle on either his specific inspirations, trajectory, or core aesthetic messages, however, is interesting in tandem with the compelling Boone installation. It’s a nice change in gallery context from the commercial scene of the early aughts when some of this work was debuted in New York alongside noisier “transavantguardia/neo-expressionist” painting; note especially some tiny, amber-toned, blotted watercolors of sexually engaged bodies, dual-purposed as intimate erotic imagery and records of Hindu temple carvings.