The World is Superflat: Art and Politics in Contemporary Japan
Marilyn Ivy - Associate Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University
Japan’s internationally famous contemporary artist, Murakami Takashi, coined the term “Superflat” to refer to an indigenous lineage of art that emphasized surface over depth, motion over stasis, playful aesthetic effects, and a proliferation of perspectives over so-called one-point perspective. “Superflat,” in Murakami’s formulation, also refers to the lack of distinction between high art and mass culture, culture and subculture, and art and craft in Japanese society. Murakami curated three important exhibitions using this rubric of the “Superflat,” including one in 2005 at New York’s Japan Society Gallery. Entitled “Little Boy,” that exhibition presented a didactic history of postwar Japan through everyday commodities, artworks, and video installations; it strove to reveal that Japan’s status as a victim of American war defeat–atomically bombed, occupied, and thenceforth colonized by American mass culture– had influenced every aspect of Japanese culture today, particularly in the way that defeat has kept Japanese perpetually infantilized. My lecture takes up the theme of “Superflat” and puts it into (ironic) articulation with the work of Thomas Friedman, the well-known political commentator and author of the wildly popular book The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. In taking on the “Superflat” and the flat world in tandem, I aim to think about the relationship of globalization and art, particularly contemporary Japanese art imagined as part of the “Superflat” aesthetic, and to think about the political implications of this art in contemporary Japan (and beyond).