At the start of the 21st Century, artist Takashi Murakami connected a diverse group of artists, sub-cultures and fringe experiments. These concepts and individuals were all part of a movement that he named Superflat. Coinciding with the mass expansion of the internet across the globe, Superflat, with its counter culture and sub-sub-sub genre modus operandi, is a movement that is most definitely millennial resonant and relevant.
Which came first and who influences whom? Pop-culture, street graffiti, traditional craft, fine art, Japanese culture, western culture, consumer culture; all modes merge in the kingdom of Superflat. Here is a space where hundreds of design layers in photoshop collapse into a single jpeg and street graffiti is applied fast and furious. The genre refers to a flattening of traditional hierarchies as well as a physical flattening of flattened forms in fine art, pop art, Japanese graphic art and animation; for Murakami, Superflat also refers to the vapidity and hollowness of consumer culture.
Superflat x Juxtapoz at the Vancouver Art Gallery is curated by Takashi Murakami and Evan Pricco, Editor-in-Chief of Juxtapoz Art & Culture Magazine. The exhibition features artists who make art, but do not necessarily promote or sell their work within the more traditional platforms of the art market. Juxtapoz magazine and Murakami have promoted many types of artists and alternative creative explorations for years now from street and skate art to Manga and anime; the world of Superflat grew out of alternative genres of culture outside of dominant forms. Something to consider as you are moving through this impressive exhibition: there is a shift in value when these once considered fringe works are shown in an institution and/or accepted into mainstream culture – do they lose their alternative or critical edge?
Artist Lucy Sparrow’s installation Nostalgia Creeps is a perfect encapsulation of Superflat. Sparrow uses felt to make objects that imitate other objects. What you think you are looking at, is a collection of sweets on a candy trolley. There is no sugar involved though. Each and every candy object on the trolly is a soft fuzzy-felted replica of the real thing. Gummy eggs, chocolate bars, even the candy floss, all are a fantastical hyperreal illusion. In 2014, Sparrow utilized an abandoned run down shop and filled it with over 4,000 hand felted and stitched grocery store items, simulation on a grand scale. Art imitating life imitating art; the controls over consumption, production and usage are blurred. Sparrow’s sweetie trolley has a dark and fetishistic side. Like the addictive quality of sugar, your eyes are mesmerized with the trickery involved, you want to see more.
GATS (Graffiti Against the System) is an artist who began street tagging in Los Angeles over a decade ago. The artist works in a variety of media, many platforms often reference street/skating culture. GATS’ characters, presented on the backs of close to 50 skateboards, form a rich and distinct lexicon of his symbolism and style. The installation’s title, and the characters found within, are quite animated and playful. Yet, melancholy and nostalgia linger here as well.
Austin Lee’s paintings could best be described as creepy-cute. Lee’s work straddles the realm of the real and digital, often collapsing one into the other. Smother is a favourite in the exhibition, it is rather hypnotic. There is tension in the work between the paint and the digital aesthetic that Lee has rendered.
Swoon is a street artist who uses wheat paste to transfer fascinating life-size portraits of acquaintances and people in her personal life into the public realm. She started pasting on the streets of New York and Brooklyn. Additionally, Swoon has created and installed works in other cities across the USA. She also works with salvaged materials, creating diorama-like scenarios using vibrant colours and a variety of media such as cardboard, wood, fabric and string. The work pictured above is an example of her aesthetic.
Rebecca Morgan’s jugs reference Southern culture. The hideous faces on the jugs were meant to frighten kids in order to prevent them from seeking out the contents of the vessels, which usually stored alcohol. Morgan is interested in witchcraft, mysticism, Dutch Pastoral tradition and Appalachian folklore, many influences inform her work. The jugs, even though they are sculptural and textured, the caricature faces transport them into a flat cartoon-like realm.
Juxtapoz X Superflat draws inspiration from many sources, but the hierarchy of context all but disappears in this exhibition. Paintings and collage are shown next to ceramics opposite spray-painted walls, design cut-outs and found objects. Curious characters and quirky compositions unify the exhibition. They also reflect the diverse culture, interests and backgrounds of their creators.
Juxtapoz x Superflat runs from November 5, 2016 – February 5, 2017 at the Vancouver Art Gallery. For more exhibition information and gallery opening hours visit: http://www.vanartgallery.bc.ca/the_exhibitions/exhibit_juxtapozxsuperflat.html
Vancouver Art Gallery – 750 Hornby Street, Vancouver, BC V6Z 2H7
Juxtapoz x Superflat includes work by Nina Chanel Abney, Chiho Aoshima, Urs Fischer, GATS, Kim Jung Gi, Kazunori Hamana, Trenton Doyle Hancock, John Hathway, Todd James, James Jean, Friedrich Kunath, Austin Lee, MADSAKI, Geoff McFetridge, Christian Rex van Minnen, Rebecca Morgan, Takashi Murakami, Kazumi Nakamura, Elisabeth Higgins O’Connor, Otani Workshop, Paco Pomet, Parra, Erin M. Riley, Mark Ryden, David Shrigley, Lucy Sparrow, Devin Troy Strother, Swoon, Katsuya Terada, Toilet Paper Magazine, Yuji Ueda, Yuji Ueno, Sage Vaughn, Ben Venom, He Xiangyu and Zoer & Velvet.