In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow [Takashi Murakami]

Jennifer Tucker

Contributor

Greatness often comes in the wake of tragedy.

With Japan’s lengthy track record of natural disasters, artists like Murakami are here to remind us of just that.  

Turns out its not all smiley flowers and women shooting milk out of their breasts in the world of Murakami. Nope, this superstar artist actually has a penchant for solemn social commentary too. This work was made as a response to the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and subsequent tsunami that ravished Japan and caused one of the world’s largest nuclear meltdowns. Not to mention the 16,000 deaths.

After a bit of sleuthing, Murakami found that over 150 years earlier after the great Ansei Edo earthquake of 1855, artist Kano Kazunobu created large monumental scrolls commemorating the events and the 500 arhats, or spiritual protectors of the Buddhist teachings. This work served as the inspiration for Murakami’s piece; hence its ridiculously long and slender shape. While this painting might just look like a bad acid trip, it is actually an ode to the spiritual and physical landscape of Japan in the wake of natural disaster. Of course it wouldn’t be a Murakami if it weren’t done in a colorful and kitschy pop art style.

This is a big boy, measuring in at 82 feet long! It is so long that there is not one wall in the Broad that is large enough to hang the work, so the curators had to split it up and hang it on two. I guess this decision keeps with the whole destruction theme Murakami has going on here.

If you dig this painting, you can rejoice in the fact that this isn’t the only piece Murakami made on this subject. The artist has been on a total bender since 2011 to explore how spirituality allows us to deal with the often-harsh narrative of our sick sad world. He seems to have adopted a “whatever helps you sleep at night” mentality and has created an entire body of work around this idea. It is an examination of how we psychologically process trauma, and if his depictions are anything like reality, than I would say our species might be doomed. Perhaps we could take this painting with a side of those smiley flowers to numb the pain.