Takashi Murakami, Nahmad Contemporary and Perrotin, (February 14 — March 12, 2024)

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February 14 — March 12, 2024 Tarmak22, Oeystrasse 29, 3792 Saanen, Switzerland

Nahmad Contemporary and Perrotin are pleased to present Takashi Murakami, a collaborative exhibition in Gstaad on view from February 14 through March 12, 2024. Featuring nine large-scale sculptures, the presentation will illuminate two paramount subjects in the Japanese artist’s oeuvre: Mr. DOB and Miss Ko2 . Conceived in the nineties during the incipient years of the artist’s career, these two iconic characters form the lifeblood of Murakami’s visual language and have continued to evolve in various forms and mediums over the past three decades.

On view in the exhibition are seven sculptural iterations of the legendary Mr. DOB that Murakami created between 2019-2022 and two life-sized figurines of Miss Ko2 that he made from 2004-2023. The meticulous, yet sleek industrial production of these sculptures mark Murakami’s commitment to scrupulous execution and advancing modes of creation, as well as his long-standing interest in blurring the distinction between high and low materials.

Takashi Murakami marks the third collaboration between Nahmad Contemporary and Perrotin, following Hans Hartung in New York, 2018 and Georges Mathieu in New York, 2021. On the occasion of the exhibition, Matthieu Jacquet composed a text on the iconic status of Mr. DOB and Michelle Molokotos presented an overview of the evolution of Miss Ko2 .


“Icon.” Today, this ancient term is so ubiquitous that its meaning has become quite vague. Does it refer to a sacred religious image, a fashion icon, a music star, or a revered role model? With so many possible definitions, what makes someone or something an icon in the 21st century? How can an image stand out amidst the constant barrage of visual stimuli to earn this prestigious label? Several characteristics can be identified. Firstly, it must be striking, original, and memorable enough to immediately arouse attraction and even fascination in those who encounter it. The image must be legible and effective, as much signifier as signified, bringing form and content into perfect harmony. Its popularity and visibility must have become part of our collective memory and unconscious, making it instantly recognizable and familiar. To be fully effective, however, an icon must also embody an idea, a belief, a style, a movement, or a work and become so archetypal that just a few words invoke it in everyone’s mind.

Thirty years after its creation, Takashi Murakami’s Mr. DOB ticks all these boxes. This cute and highly singular character has funny, childlike features, a round, oversized head screwed onto a small, flashy-colored body, and enormous, teddy-bear ears. It references various figures well-known to Generations X and Y, such as Doraemon, the robot cat from the eponymous Japanese manga, and Sonic the Hedgehog, the hero of Sega’s video game, an explicit source of inspiration for the artist. For three decades, the DOB (Red), 2019 – 2021. FRP, urethane paint, stainless steel, wood base. 158.4×130.4×82.8 cm | 623/8×515/16×325/8 in. ©2019-2021 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy Perrotin. DOB (Rainbow), 2019 – 2022. FRP, urethane paint, stainless steel, wood base. 158.4×130.4×82.8 cm | 623/8×515/16×325/8 in. ©2019-2022 Takashi Murakami/ Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy Perrotin. mischievous Mr. DOB has been omnipresent all over the world: in museums and galleries, on Murakami’s monumental canvases and sculptures, in streetwear boutiques, on caps, mugs, and T-shirts, in YouTube videos, and as figurines for collectors in search of rare gems to add to their collections… What’s more, like any successful advertising logo, Mr. DOB is perfectly self-referential: on his right ear is the letter D, on his left is the letter B, and in the center of his face is the letter O.

The exhibition at Tarmak22 features seven sculptures of the famous Mr. DOB. Created over the past five years, these works, each five feet tall, with wide eyes and tender smiles, differ only in the colors: apple green, yellow, black and white, multicolored, or gold. Like a chameleon, Mr. DOB adapts to all tastes, although its seemingly cheerful appearance conceals a darker side. After its conception in 1993, Murakami exhibited the character on a large canvas titled 727 in 1996. In its transformed version, it was much more terrifying. It had four red eyes and a huge mouth whose sharp teeth gave it a predatory grin. Like any anime character, Mr. DOB is a multifaceted icon, frequently transformed to express a variety of emotions. In some works, its bewildered gaze represents the naivety of childhood, while in others, its spiraling eyes and open mouth, which appears to be belching rainbows, resemble a monster in the grip of destructive madness.

Mr. DOB is the central character in Takashi Murakami’s zany universe. But there are others, of course, like the smiling flowers, another great leitmotif, and the odd-eyed octopus the artist often wears as a headdress. There are also hypersexualized young men and women, inspired by animation and otaku culture, that the artist has been sculpting on a human scale since 1997—the first was called Miss Ko2 , a kind of Lolita in a mini-dress and apron. The exhibition presents two recent examples: a schoolgirl with long blue pigtails, and a she-devil wearing sexy lingerie. Two versions of the same character that you could dress up as you please, like a doll or the protagonist of a fighting video game. Like the DOBs, the Ko2 s were also born in the 1990s and likewise mark the earliest sculptural iterations of Takashi Murakami.

Like Andy Warhol’s Marilyn, Keith Haring’s “dancing figures”—his famous colorful silhouettes in motion—and Jean-Michel Basquiat’s grimacing masks, Mr. DOB has become an art-historical icon. It has conquered pop culture and been adapted over and over again, even by artists of Murakami’s generation: in the manga characters created by Mr. (Murakami’s former assistant and disciple of the Superflat movement founded by Murakami) or in the cartoonish creatures of street artist Kenny Scharf. But also in the figure of Annlee, a Japanese animated character whose rights were acquired by French artists Pierre Huyghe and Philippe Parreno in 1999 and who has since regularly featured in their immaterial works.

Mr. DOB is also a symptom of a genuine artistic transition—if not a revolution—at the end of the 20th century when popular culture significantly expanded the boundaries of art, putting an end to the reign of the individual work. At the same time, digital technology triggered a new mass reproducibility of the image. Through the figure’s extensive, multi-faceted presence, Takashi Murakami has taken up the mantle from his American predecessors and succeeded in creating a powerful icon that permeates contemporary art, its market, as well as fashion, pop culture, the Internet, and the world of merchandising. Despite its popularity, the meaning of the famous character remains enigmatic. Short for dobojite, Japanese slang for “why,” the name DOB sounds like an existential question ironically addressed to everyone. The artist sees the icon as his avatar, constantly evolving to express the multiple aspects of his personality. Lest we forget: in Greek, the word “eikon” also refers to the image we see in the mirror.

 — Matthieu Jacquet

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