Celine Fraser, Acquisition Coordinator
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At this point, most people are well aware of the NFT Storm that has shaken and uprooted the art world. From Damien Hirst to KAWS, NFTs seem to be the collectors buzzword, and we are seeing more and more artists try their hand at this fresh form of artwork. Whether you like them or not, in the digital age NFTs are here to stay, and so it's unsurprising that contemporary art superstar and champion of democratising artwork, Takashi Murakami, is getting involved.
Having recently completed his collaborative CloneX Avatar project with the Nike-owned digital collectibles studio, RTFKT, (pronounced ‘Artefact,’ duh.), Murakami has just released his newest foray into the world of NFT artwork: Murakami.Flowers.
So, Flowers. This project was initially released by Takashi Murakami in 2021, however the artist then suspended its release due to not feeling well versed enough in NFT knowledge. Now once again in the public eye, Murakami has collaborated with Video Game executive Yoshihisa Hashimoto to create Murakami.Flowers, which packs a visual punch that combines the aesthetics of 1980s Nintendo games with the superflat style that defined post-war Japanese art.
Characteristically bright, saturated and cheerful, Murakami.Flowers revolves around the number 108. A reference to the Buddhist notion of Bonno, meaning earthly temptations and clouding of the mind, there are 108 ‘fields’ in the project, each formed of 108 different backgrounds and 108 coloured flower variations. In total there are 11,664 individual flower images and these are what are currently up for grabs.
Pixelated versions of his beloved flower motif, whose laughing faces have dominated the contemporary art scene over the past decade, Murakami.Flowers epitomises the line that the artist walks between reflection on Japanese history and the commercialisation of ‘high’ art through Pop practice.
Seen on Kanye West’s album covers, on Kid Cudi’s chains, and Drake’s hoodie to name just a few celebrity encounters, Murakami’s flower is synonymous with his artistic output. Drawing on the traditional Japanese practice of Nihonga, Murakami adapted his flowers to a crowded 50 heads per stem, birthing an immediately recognisable, highly reproducible motif. Indeed, as well as celebrity collaborations, Murakami’s flowers have been appropriated by multiple fashion houses and brands, from Louis Vuitton and Uniqlo, to Vans and Supreme.
Yet, despite their sugary appearance, Murakami claims that the flowers in fact invoke the trauma and complexity of emotion felt in the aftermath of World War II by Japan. It is a criticism that the artist has been consistently outspoken on, regarding media portrayal of Japan as the infantilised ‘little boy,’ in comparison to the United States and the West. The artist claimed that as a result of this, Japan has been forced to develop culturally in more repressed ways:
For Murakami, Japanese culture was forced to turn to cuteness, limited to a childlike aesthetic, that essentially stunted its development and forced an obsession with darker ideas or violence to manifest themselves in alternative ways. Food for thought then when considering Murakami.Flowers and the levels of meaning beneath what seems at first glance to be a two-dimensional sunny icon.
While Murakami.Flowers is his first solo NFT project in terms of design, this is not the first time the artist has dipped his toes into the waters of the NFT creation, collaborating with RTFKT studios to create 20,000 individual Clone X Avatars in 2021. The avatars themselves are randomly generated and formed of traits, features and clothing that Murakami designed.
What is particularly interesting about the Avatars is that they can be used by buyers as icons and profiles in future NFT-based games, in AR filters and even just in zoom meetings. They represent the ever-growing overlap between the digital world, metaverse and real life.
If there is one thing about the evolving world of NFTs that we can rely on being true, it is that they can generate a LOT of money. Prices for Murakami’s Avatars began at 3TH (Ether) which converts to just over £5,000. Considering other Clone X projects like Clone X Mintvials reached a US$20,000 floor price, or the fact that an alien Cryptopunks NFT - the same size as Murakami’s Flowers - realised US$7.5 million in March 2022, it is safe to assume that Murakami’s NFT projects are set to skyrocket.
The first flower NFT released by the artist, titled #0000 Murakami.Flower attracted bids of 144 Ether, or US$260,395 within the first few hours. The artist plans to release 12 flowers a day for (you guessed it) 180 days, driving interest and ensuring they reach a wide, international audience.
It is a strange and evolving time for digital art, and when asked about the NFT project, Murakami himself questioned:
A perfect summary of how our notions of Art history, from old-school Renaissance masters to Pop-Art and Performance are shifting towards a new realm, that, whether for better or for worse, asks where artwork can fit into a digital world.