Photo Credit: https://www.perrotin.com/Takashi_Murakami-works-oeuvres-21009-12.html Photo Caption: Takashi Murakami, Tan Tan Bo, 2001, Acrylic on canvas mounted on board, 11.9 x 17.8 feet 2 1/2 inches x feet (3 panels / 360 x 540 x 6.7 cm (3 panels 360 x 180 cm each). ©2001 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
By Jessica Herrington
The artwork of Takashi Murakami is wildly popular, both within his native home of Japan and around the world. Recently, Murakami exhibited his work in yet another blockbuster show, this time at the Gagosian in New York City. But why is Murakami’s work so attractive?
Murakami’s work could be so attractive to us because of the way the brain perceives faces. While there is certainly a dark side to his work, Murakami’s smiling flowers display happy, earnest faces to the viewer. From birth, perceiving faces is an important part of social interaction in humans. In fact, babies as young as 2-3 months old prefer to look at faces than at other objects. Being able to attend to and quickly perceive faces is useful to us in order to judge whether someone is friend or foe.
Murakami’s work is quite unique in the way faces fill all areas of the visual plane. A single eye can be an eye of one or more faces. Because of this, the more time you spend looking at Murakami’s works, the more faces you will see. This mechanism coaxes us into spending more time looking at Murakami’s work.
Viewing smiling faces in particular is known to have physiological benefits. For instance, seeing a smiling face can affect heart rate, blood pressure and alertness. Smiling faces have also been said to produce an ‘approach’ response, further drawing the viewer in. We also respond quicker to smiling faces.
Perceiving a smiling face can also affect consumer behavior, even if that face is in cartoon form. In a well known experiment, it was found that if a server draws a smiling face on the back of a check at a restaurant, this can increase the amount of tips that server receives.
Murakami is well known for blurring the line between art and commercialism. The artist claims that his aim is to criticize the shallow, emptiness of consumer culture. By using smiling faces (whether intentional or not) Murakami’s work encourages the viewer to want to be close to the work (and to spend money on it).
While there are many other aspects of Murakami’s work that are enjoyable other than the smiling faces, there is not enough space to consider them in full here. However, it is certainly the case that we are drawn to faces. By filling his work with smiling flowers, Murakami taps in to our primal instinct which encourages us to look at, and enjoy, faces.
Takashi Murakami In The Land Of The Dead, Stepping On The Tail Of A Rainbow was on view at Gagosian Gallery in New York City November 10, 2014 - January 17, 2015