Takashi Murakami has never been one to feel constrained by the rules of the art world, and his latest collaborative effort at Gagosian Beverly Hills carries this theme of his oeuvre to new heights. Featuring works created in tandem with fashion icon  Virgil Abloh, the exhibition “America Too” sets its sights on – and succeeds at – challenging the concepts that define the modern American experience through art.

Blending the multimedia nature of their larger bodies of work in this showcase, Murakami and Abloh are bold with their embrace of each other’s motifs as well as multifaceted cultural influences. From classical Japanese painting traditions to the cellophane celebrity of Hollywood, these two collaborators weave their painterly and sculptural works together through a myriad of references and motifs. The notion of the mash-up is the mode du jour, and Murakami and Abloh execute it marvelously.

Why this collaborative confrontation of styles? For Murakami and Abloh, it is equal parts novelty and also a continuation of an idea first explored earlier. The innovative approach here is that Murakami and Abloh have set out to challenge the role of art in the modern world, using the inherent power of satire to subvert, to borrow Murakami’s words, “a zone of supremacy in the art world.” For both Murakami and Abloh, it seems, art is not to be a precious icon but rather a manifestation of it age, so both artists use this idea as their central concept. At the same time, however, this “America Too” exhibition is an extension of earlier Gagosian projects: “future history,” which debuted at Gagosian London (21 February – 7 April 2018), and “Technicolor 2” at Gagosian Paris (23 June – 28 July 2018).

In this regard, “America Too” carries this collaborative conversation forward into a new phase, one in which both Murakami and Abloh create a space where past meets present and where the iconic likenesses each has created – from Murakami’s MR. DOB to references to Abloh’s Off-White fashion label – come to life in a larger dialogue with the past masters of art, design, and iconography.

Takashi Murakami is one of the world’s most celebrated artists. Born in Tokyo in the early 1960s, Murakami studied at Tokyo University of the Arts where he honed his skills in traditional Japanese painting methods. Beneath this classical study, though, was a disenchantment with the modern art scene in Japan and an unyielding love for the pop-culture pulse of manga illustration. From that point, Murakami skyrocketed to the forefront of the art world in his bold redefinition of the modern painter. In addition to his theoretical contributions – for example, his foray into the method of Superflat painting in the early years of the twenty-first century – Murakami became renowned for his ability to artfully collaborate across media and genres. As a result, Murakami’s works have become part of international museum and gallery collections, from the 21st Century Museum on Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, Japan, to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Virgil Abloh followed a similarly meteoric rise to success. Born in Rockford, Illinois, in 1980, Abloh first followed his passions for civil engineering and architecture, but his big break came with the debut of his fashion label, Off-White, in Milan, Italy, in 2013. His latest appointment is as Menswear DIrector for French fashion giant Louis Vuitton, and he is soon to be feted with his first career retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago next year (2019).

– Alexis Culotta

A view of the “America Too” installation at Gagosian. Photo: Joshua White