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The Broad showcases immersive, augmented reality Murakami exhibit

In the aftermath of the 2012 earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima disaster and the devastation and collective trauma that it induced across Japan, contemporary artist Takashi Murakami found inspiration. 

“Takashi has been interested in how culture rises to meet big traumatic events throughout Japanese history,” said Ed Schad, curator and publications manager at The Broad.

Murakami’s early work analyzed the rise and fall of the Japanese economy after World War II, specifically after the dropping of the atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and interpreted the manga and anime boom that swept the nation in the coming decades. 

Murakami’s most recent body of work extended this theme of cultural change in the wake of disaster to his observations on how global societies have reacted to the outbreak of COVID-19, and will be on display at the Broad until Sunday, Sept. 25.

“In thinking about how to present Takashi’s work at The Broad, we looked at what we’re all going through with COVID-19 and what has been going on since 2020,” Schad explained. “Takashi is looking at these events in a profound way. These three traumatic events — the first being the World War II aftermath; the second being the 2012 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster; and the third being COVID-19 — became a structure for thinking about an exhibition, thinking about three movements to make that theme in Takashi’s work of processing trauma, of looking at how culture deals with trauma, a guiding force for this exhibition.”

For Murakami, the explosive, worldwide interest in the metaverse and in virtual and augmented realities constituted a societal and cultural shift. As part of The Broad’s “Takashi Murakami: Stepping on the Tail of the Rainbow” exhibition, and in partnership with Meta’s Spark AR, Instagram and BUCK, Murakami uses AR experiences to extend the expression of his paintings’ and sculptures’ complex concern with trauma and disaster. Inside and outside of The Broad, these emergent realities and technologies populate the East West Bank Plaza, the museum lobby and one of the exhibition galleries. 

“(During the pandemic) we were locked down; we were unable to travel,” Schad said. “Our movement was restricted, and that reality started to push cultural ideas that have been around for a long time, like the metaverse and NFTs. … This became a global conversation. Towards this end, Takashi himself started to make NFTs and to develop a great interest in digital worlds. 

“Just like anime and manga, it’s not the invention of the technology, but its sudden explosion has a lot to do with the trauma of this virus and this global moment.”

The Broad developed a series of digital avatars that exist throughout the exhibition spaces and serve as a direct reference to Murakami’s new interest. The museum also used the Instagram app to breathe a new life into Murakami’s characters, allowing them to step out of their physical forms and into a ghostly digital existence. 

In addition to museum visitors, the public will be able to experience the new AR feature on the East West Bank Plaza. 

“One of the great things about working with (Murakami) is that he’s got a lot of three-dimensional, modeled-out material that has existed as sculptures, which can be converted into a digital world,” Schad explained. “The way that the digital worlds are built is a lot like sculpture. These creatures have armatures, they have facial rigging and all of these things have a lot in common with the traditional way of making sculptures. And so we were able to locate moments in his wider body of work that spoke to these themes.”

Schad described two sculptures in particular, “Hiropon” and “My Lonesome Cowboy.” When Murakami’s painting “Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of the Rainbow” debuted in 2014, it was originally flanked by the two sculptures of demons, which traditionally protect Buddhist temples. By creating digital avatars of the sculptures, Schad and his team at The Broad were able to reunite the guardian demons with the painting as digital avatars.

“Takashi is really the ultimate artist who extends a hand of friendship to you through the way that he makes this work,” Schad said. “There’s joy in it. There’s vibrant color. There’s incredible craftsmanship, exquisite design and execution of every work in the show. And that can and will feel very joyful, very happy. But I also would say … it’s full of chutes and ladders. It’s full of little trap doors and dimensions that you can fall into that take you into these wider historical stories. And you find yourself interested in things that you may not have come to the exhibition with an intention to know about, but they arrived nonetheless. 

“I think people are really eager to come together and Murakami is an artist that brings people together in the way that a concert would, in the way that getting together with the family would or returning to those activities that we put off or didn’t take the risk to do for so long. I hope that this is just the beginning.”


“Takashi Murakami: Stepping on the Tail of the Rainbow”

WHERE: The Broad, 221 S. Grand Avenue, Los Angeles

WHEN: The exhibition runs until Sunday, Sept. 25

COST: $18 for adults, $12 for students and free or visitors 17 and under

INFO: thebroad.org

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