Takashi Murakami is responsible for making Japanese Pop Art a serious contender on the Western art market. Murakami prints and artwork has realised countless record prices, with top-selling works include the tongue-in-cheek, My Lonesome Cowboy, which went under the hammer in 2008.
Here we look at the most expensive Murakami artworks under the hammer:
“The title comes from an Andy Warhol film called Lonesome Cowboys. The work shows someone masturbating and smiling. It doesn’t have a meaning,” Murakami has said of My Lonesome Cowboy. Despite the artist’s claims, My Lonesome Cowboy and its companion sculpture Hiroponare two significant works in Murakami’s “body fluids” period and seen as his early attempt to represent manga (Japanese comics) and otaku (nerd) culture using Western fine art techniques.
The important piece achieved US$15.1 million against an estimate of US$3-4 million when it was offered at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction in New York on 14 May 2008, and remains the most expensive work by Murakami at auction today.
At nearly sixty foot and produced in just 24 hours, Dragon in Clouds - Red Mutation is one of three large-scale depictions of the Japanese dragon by Takashi Murakami. Departing from the artist's usual multicoloured palette, this work draws upon traditional Japanese painting and is produced entirely in shades of red. In April 2018, the work fetched over ￥55.8 million (£6.4 million) at Council auction house in Shanghai, making it the second most expensive work by Murakami sold at auction to date.
Created in 2013, Takashi Murakami's Red Demon and Blue Demon with 48 Arhats is a salient example of the artist’s unique fusion of Buddhist imagery, Edo period printmaking and contemporary kawaii culture. This graphic work that features Murakami’s highly recognisable superflat style and bright colours, sold at Phillips for over US$6 million (£4.4 million) in June 2021, superseding its upper estimate of US$4.5 million.
Miss KO², considered Murakami’s first large-scale manga-inspired sculpture, has appeared no less than three times at auction in the last decade – each time with a top-performing result.
The important early work was first offered at Phillips’s Carte Blanche auction in New York on 8 November 2010, where it achieved US$6.8 million (£4.2 million). Seven years later, it was sold at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong in April 2017 for HK$22.9 million (£2.3 million). In November 2019, the sculpture was fought over in a four-minute bidding battle at Sotheby’s in New York, eventually selling for US$3 million (£2.4 million).
Known for his kawaii characters and celebratory use of commercial culture, Murakami is also not one to shy away from social and political engagement. Made in 2013, 69 Arhats Beneath the Bodhi Tree represents the artist’s unique response to the 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami that struck Japan and its aftermath on the Japanese people. Meshing together religion, Japanese art history and his famous superflat aesthetic, this work homages suffering and pain and is a hopeful wish for healing.
Maybe it is because of this that the painting sold for HK$38,490,000 (more than £39 million) when it went under the hammer at Sotheby’s Hong Kong on 27 April 2022.
Mr DOB, Murakami’s cartoon alter ego, has morphed in countless variations since he was first created in 1993. Tan Tan Bo is a huge, three-part hallucinatory vision of Mr DOB made in 2001. The painting was purchased soon after it was completed and came up for auction nearly a decade later. It was snapped up in less than half a minute at Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale in New York on 15 November 2018, where it achieved US$5 million.
Created in 1998, The Castle Of Tin Tin is an early representation of Murakami’s alter ego, Mr DOB, as well as the artist’s concept of the “superflat”, where the ideas, techniques and differences between high art and low art are “flattened” together in the same work. After spending 13 years in the same private collection, The Castle Of Tin Tin sold for US$4.2 million in Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction in New York in November 2012.
In this version of Murakami's most popular character, Mr DOB emerges in this Alice in Wonderland-esque realm replete with multi-coloured mushrooms of varying sizes. Mr Dob stands in the centre wearing an expression of shock in Murakami's 1999 Dob In The Strange Forest (Red Dob). Coming in both blue and red versions, the latter edition far outshone the other when it comes to final bidding prices at auction.
Concluding at £2.2million in November 2008, this fiberglass sculpture was sold at the Post-War and Contemporary Art auction in Christie's, New York.
In 2002, Murakami had a successful but controversial collaboration with fashion brand house Louis Vuitton. “Japanese people accept that art and commerce will be blended; and in fact, they are surprised by the rigid and pretentious Western hierarchy of ‘high art’,” the artist said. “In the West, it certainly is dangerous to blend the two because people will throw all sorts of stones but that’s okay – I’m ready with my hard hat.”
A year after the project, Murakami responded to his “high art” critics with Panda, a limited-edition sculpture featuring a cartoon bear on top of an antique Louis Vuitton trunk. One edition sold for HK$23 million (£2.2 million) at Seoul Auction in Hong Kong in November 2017, while another edition achieved £1.4 million at the Kyobai auction in London's Phillips de Pury in April 2008. Lastly, another 2003 edition of Panda realised £1.2 million at Sotheby's in London in April 2019.
Created in collaboration with singer Pharrell Williams, The Simple Things displays seven items picked by Williams inside Murakami’s Mr. DOB’s gaping jaws. “Sometimes we forget the simple things in life,” explained Williams, who chose a can of Pepsi, a cupcake, Johnson’s Baby Lotion, Heinz Tomato Ketchup, a bag of Doritos, a Trojan Magnum condom and a Billionaire Boys Club trainer to represent the “simple things” he cherished most. Each object was then crafted in gold and 26,000 diamonds and precious gems. The dazzling unique sculpture was the star lot of Christie’s HI-LITE Evening Sale in Hong Kong on 23 November 2019.
“In Japanese, we have this adjective, ‘kikikaikai’, which we use for strange things or phenomena, things that are frightening, disturbing or make us uneasy,” Murakami explained. But his pair of mascots, Kaikai and Kiki, are named after two different words with the same pronunciation, meaning “powerful and sensitive”.
Since their creation in 2000, Kaikai and Kiki have been one of Murakami’s most frequently depicted characters. A sculpture of the pair was offered in Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Auction in London on 14 October 2010, where it soared past its £400,000- £600,000 estimate to achieve £1.9 million in under two minutes.
Over six metres in length, the monumental five-part painting Wow, Kaikai Kiki combines the intricate techniques of 17th-century Japanese Rinpa School floral paintings with the playfulness of Murakami’s cartoon-inspired style. The work achieved HK$19.3 million at Christie’s HI-LITE Evening Sale in November 2019 – the second most expensive lot of the night.