One of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world, Takashi Murakami – the “Andy Warhol of Japan” – has made Japanese Pop Art a serious contender on the Western art market. Here we track the artist’s top-selling works at auction in recent years.
My Lonesome Cowboy, $15,161,000 (£7.8 million)
“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 Hiropon are 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 $15.1 million against an estimate of $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.
Miss KO², $6,802,500 (£4.2 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 $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 $3 million (£2.4 million).
Tan Tan Bo, $5,037,500 (£3.9 million)
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 $5 million.
The Castle Of Tin Tin, $4,226,500 (£2.6 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 $4.2 million in Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction in New York in November 2012.
Panda, HK$23,000,000 (£2.2 million)
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 (£2.1 million) at Seoul Auction in Hong Kong in November 2017, while another edition achieved £1.2 million at Sotheby’s in London in June 2019.
The Simple Things, HK$21,725,000 (£2.1 million)
Created in collaboration with singer Pharrell Williams, The Simple Things displays seven items picked by Pharrell inside Murakami’s Mr. DOB’s gaping jaws. “Sometimes we forget the simple things in life,” explained Pharrell, 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.
Kaikai Kiki, £1,945,250
“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.
Wow, Kaikai Kiki, HK$19,325,000 (£1.9 million)
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.
And Then, And Then And Then And Then And Then (Red), $2,415,000 (£1.8 million)
A prized piece from the collection of art patron David Teiger, And Then, And Then And Then And Then And Then (Red) was offered in Sotheby’s The History of Now: The Collection of David Teiger auction in New York on 14 November 2018. The sale raised a total of $48,854,700 to support the late Teiger’s contemporary art foundation. Other highlights from Teiger’s collection, which in total was valued around $100 million, included works by Jeff Koons, Tracey Emin and David Hockney as well as more pieces by Murakami.
DOB in the Strange Forest (Blue DOB), $2,770,500 (£1.7 million)
Inspired by the scene in Alice in Wonderland when Alice meets the caterpillar sitting on a mushroom, here Murakami’s alter-ego Mr DOB is surprised on meeting some cartoon mushrooms. Although the scene looks like a child’s toy set, the sculpture stands over 1.5m tall. Murakami made three editions of this sculpture, plus two artist’s proofs, in 1999. One was offered at Christie’s in New York on 8 November 2011, where it achieved almost $2.8 million. Another edition is now in The Broad, Los Angeles.