Sketchy People

We have seen the dark spawn of Hello Kitty... and its name is Mr. DOB. Actually, the cartoon creation — sort of a bloated Mickey Mouse, sometimes depicted with two (or sometimes 25) unmatching eyeballs and a mouthful of sharp teeth — was born in the deliciously twisted, shamelessly commercial mind of Japanese artist/pop-culture icon Takashi Murakami. Murakami's characters appeal equally to collectors, who have paid $1 million-plus for his work, to Tokyo schoolchildren, who buy $3 keychains with his designs, to Brooklyn-dwelling hipsters addicted to the culture mag Tokion.

On his website, Murakami proclaims, ¨When I consider what Japanese culture is like, the answer is that it all is subculture. Therefore, art is unnecessary.¨ Then he says, ¨If my art looks positive and cheerful, I would doubt my art was accepted in the contemporary art scene. My art is not Pop art. It is a record of the struggle of the discriminated people.¨ One wonders which discriminated people he had in mind when he redesigned Louis Vuitton handbags — yes, Murakami´s the guy who changed the color palette from dog poo to candy store back in 2003.

He´s just one of 30 artists who mess with the lines between mass culture and rarefied art, between high class and low brow, and who star in the exhibit Art in the Toon Age. Also featured: Jeff Koons — who created a giant topiary in the shape of a puppy, married a porn star who ran for Parliament, and in 1999 commissioned a song about himself (by Momus, it goes, ¨He has come to bring you things that make you happy/A gigantic puppy made of living flowers¨); Laylah Ali — who makes stick-figurish characters that attack each other; Zap Comix creator R. Crumb; and Art Spiegelman — who won a Pulitzer Prize for Maus but made a few choice Garbage Pail Kids trading cards in his day.


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