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For Anselm Reyle’s INTO THE VOID Exhibition Vol.1

This project has been four years in the making. I am excited to finally present Anselm Ryele’s solo exhibition in Japan. This is a deeply meaningful, personal exhibition for me. I would like to explain the reason why and the background leading to the show, starting with our encounter.

First, please read the statement from Anselm himself:

Statement From Anselm Reyle

My first exhibition in Japan, INTO THE VOID, was developed in close collaboration with Takashi Murakami. Takashi told me that he greatly appreciates my work, which is why he also owns some pieces. But he said, unfortunately he does not quite understand what my work is about and asked if perhaps I could explain it to him. I felt a little overwhelmed by this direct question, so I began to stammer something. To my amazement, however, Takashi seemed to gain a realization from my embarrassment. He said that he now understood why he likes my work so much.

Much like his, it is ultimately about nothing. It’s about nothingness, about the void. Takashi was excited by that. He noticed my confusion and said that I absolutely had to visit the shrines and temples in Ise and Kyoto the next day. Then I would understand more.

End quote.


You can find the entire text here.

It must have been 6 years or so ago when I first encountered his work. I found an exhibition catalog at some bookstore. When I saw the images of his works in the catalog, something clicked. His memorable trademark was the noise print he would leave on his works by placing a paint cup on them. I sensed that he belonged to the generation after mine, and that he would easily push the evolution of art one step further, and I felt jealous and fearful for that ease.

Anselm Reyle is a German conceptual painter and sculptor, and he was a young prince who came at the end of the pre-Lehman Shock art bubble that had started in the late ’90s. He is eight years younger than I. I finally got to see his work in person at Gagosian, the gallery I work with. What an enormous scale it was! I was shocked by the impression gap between the images in the catalog and the real thing. The work was made with a purple foil, one of the largest in the series. It was love at first sight

As I stood there staring at the work open-mouthed, Sam Orlofsky, Anselm’s manager at Gagosian, came up to me with a sly grin on his face and ranted, “Aren’t you blown away? It’s so completely new. He’s discarded everything he could, and what’s remaining is the absolute minimum. It’s amazing, don’t you think?” This was at the Gagosian space on the 24th Street in the famous Chelsea, in the room to the right of the entrance, all the way in the back, in the collectors’ viewing room. “The entire world is freaking out. The new sculpture is beyond description. Your brain would burnout.” Sam couldn’t be stopped, with his eyes darting every which way and shaking his head. As I listened to this presentation, I couldn’t help wanting to meet the artist himself, so I asked Sam for his contact information. “You want to meet him?” he said. “That’s a good idea. Yes, you should see him at once. His studio is equally crazy!” Oh boy, I couldn’t wait! My delusion rapidly expanded and exploded in my head, so I immediately flew to Berlin.

I landed in Berlin for the first time in my life. I found myself in an area with old buildings. Brick buildings cluttered along the streets, creating a nostalgic atmosphere. His studio was on the second floor of one such building. I ascended on a small freight elevator with metal mesh casing, and the door opened with a deep, scraping noise. And right there, beyond the door, was a huge office.

Unlike the cluttered appearance of the exterior, the space inside looked like a tidy university classroom, in which eight to ten brand new Mac flat screen monitors were lined up, and the staff members were merrily having lunch together in the kitchen area.

There was a large fish tank set at the eye level next to the entrance, and in it swam some freshwater tropical fish. My first impression was; “Wow, this is the new generation. Definitely way ahead of us Kaikai Kiki!”

By then I had been recognized in the U.S. and Europe through Superflat, I had finished the collaboration with Louis Vuitton, and I had set up 20 or so state-of-the-art computers in the pre-fab huts that were my office and studio in Asaka, Saitama, working with about 50 staff members. So I was pretty confident with my unbalanced appearance. But my confidence started to deflate right there.

“Takashi! I’m glad you came! Did you come from NY? Wasn’t the transit hectic? Thank you for coming all the way!” Having melted my nervousness with his uncalculated smile, he immediately went on to give me a tour of his studio.

“This is the room for paint experiments, this is the room where we pool different materials, this is where we assemble the materials, this is the office we’ve started from, and here’s where we eat meals together. Ha-ha, it’s tiny, isn’t it?”

There were no white walls like in NY artists’ studios, and the completed works were simply kept lying flat, and they checked the completed images on the computer. The studio layout wasted nothing.

Looking at the space in which young people in their early twenties are cheerfully but methodically working, and witnessing the aesthetic of the production process, I felt light-headed. It was amazing; completely new school. Everything was being simulated on the computer. And it was wonderful that the efficiency was prioritized.

When I first started out in the contemporary art world, the new painting was blossoming in NY. Artists squatted in the buildings in SoHo, which had been undeveloped as an art scene, and painted the walls pure white themselves. Back then, it was as though one had to set up a huge studio in SoHo in order to be an artist. I had thought there was no chance of even debuting for a young artist in Japan who could only secure a tiny space under the dire real estate situation. But, just then, the computer use started to become wide-spread. My generation of artists began to find our way toward success in this situation.

So I enormously empathized with the setup of Anselm’s studio—the large number of assistants, the emphasis on the work on computers, no white walls—and felt as though we’ve shared our courage to lead the art scene forward into the future… But basically, I was fearful at the emergence of the new generation.

For Anselm Reyle’s INTO THE VOID Exhibition Vol.2

Anselm and I moved to the world’s most prominent gallery, Gagosian, in NY, around the same time, and his works’ price went up explosively as well, just as mine did. He constantly produced works, responding to the needs of the market. Not only that, he was creating works with brand new ideas. His works sold immediately, and the waiting list was 10-pages long. And then… The Leman Shock. Dun dun duuun. The timing couldn’t have been more dramatic for the art world: Damien Hirst, the artist of our generation who has been leading the art scene and the market, held a solo auction of his works at Sotheby’s in London. Not only did it bear his name, but it also included some works that the artist had directly delivered to the auction house, without going through any galleries, to be sold (auctioned off). This was an incredibly scandalous and ambitious attempt, and I believe it took place on the very day of the Lehman Shock.

Here’s what was so ambitious about Damien’s auction: For our generation of artists, how we might develop our critical voice against the capitalist way had been one of the important themes. That is, there had been a competition about how an artist should act and position himself in order to represent “freedom,” how a statement could be delivered, and who could be the first to do it.

That is, this had been a scramble to see who would be the one to bell the cat. And Damian did it. And now the cat was awaken… It was more than that; the money game itself collapsed. I doubt that Damien or the auction house could have predicted this crash that coincided with the auction.

I was also in the midst of this game. The game I chose had been in the form of GEISAI, and in a sense this was facing the same direction as Damien’s Sotheby’s auction in that I was trying to invalidate the galleries and change the rules of the main market. On the day of Damien’s auction, the market boiled over and many expensive works were successfully bid, but many cancellations followed. Perhaps the Lehman Shock allowed people to cancel without embarrassment at the time, but the cancellations continued, and it was a sorry outcome as far as business went.

My GEISAI#11 was held the day before the Lehman Shock. We had the best attendance and participating artists with booths ever, and many art-world visitors from abroad were there as well. I had created this crazy decoration for the fair space, with enormous LED lights glowing throughout the space like something from a sci-fi movie, to bounce off the Western context for art. The overseas art-world visitors were astounded the moment they saw this, and they momentarily lost their ability to give any verdicts. So it appeared as though my mission had succeeded for the time being… But. The minute the structure of capitalism, which had been our longtime opponent, started unraveling, our battle itself was rendered as worthless as Don Quixote’s charge against the windmill.

Damien’s auction still casts a shadow on his market now, five years after the fact. He must have known that his short-term market would completely collapse by holding this auction. But if not him, who else would have done it? There had been such a sense of crunch in the atmosphere. The majority opinion now is that, market-wise, Damien’s judgment was off. But I think that is wrong. I believe the history of that battle will be deeply engraved in the art history, and one day his courage will also be properly praised.

During such an era of extravaganza in the art market, Anselm chose as his battle to continue thoroughly responding to the market’s needs. Those artists who were pitching camps at the forefront of art at the time were forced to adjust their formations according to the changing rules. Many people may think this silly, but such was the nature of that battle. As for me, the production costs spent for GEISAI#11 almost took my company down.

Now… The process of dealing with the post-extravaganza was quite something as well. At one point after the Lehman Shock, a certain art advisor contacted me asking for a negotiation. “My client is furious. He bought a Murakami piece, and then another work of the same size and same theme was sold at an auction for less than what he had paid for. In order to protect my client, I request that you give him a work that covers the difference.”

What the xxxx?? What in the xxxx are you talking about? Are you kidding me? I was enraged. But my opponent also got enraged, because that was his job as an advisor. Around this time, this type of struggles started to occur frequently.

I often see people who smirk knowingly at the art market, but I want to flip my boogers at such people’s frivolous sense of moral. I don’t understand the appeal of soaking in dogmatism without understanding anything whatsoever about what art is. History has proven that beauty if often inseparably paired with monstrous greed. Human greed, beauty, and its value constitute a monolith.

So, while I was enraged by art advisors who acted like hyenas, I also believe that tolerating even such elements and their behavioral principles would be part of the process of pursuing the true beauty of this moment and forget ahead in that hostile environment. That is why I was able to endure through the confusion of post-Lehman Shock.

I’m sure Anselm also had to deal with many such unjust and nonsensical claims. Six months after the Lehman Shock, I flew again to Berlin to ask him to do a show in Japan. “I’ve slowed down the pace of production compared to before,” he said. “But I think it was a good thing that this kind of situation (the market crash) happened. Now I have the opportunity to reflect on myself. Whatever happens, in the end it’s all a positive thing.” At his studio, they were contemplating various prototypes for his collaboration with Dior then. “Do you really want to do a show? In Asia? Is it going to be okay?” He was more concerned than I was.

His activities have mainly centered around European museums. He consistently manages to put on two to three solos shows a year. When there is no budget, he still comes up with ways to create a string of new works and keep posing relevant questions. He couldn’t get discouraged by a mere market crash. I fell for him all over again when I saw the tough fighter’s spirit behind his apparent naiveness. A few months later, I received an invitation to come see his solo show somewhere in Scandinavia, and the new work he had developed for the show grabbed my heart yet again.

The new work I saw was a “heap of artist’s trash” consisting of discarded paintings and pieces of broken sculptures that must have come from his studio mixed up in a huge pile with dead computers and other garbage. I thought I clearly saw the artist’s pure spirit of inquiry and strong heart in this installation that was at once self-deprecating and deriding of the world-wide museum building boom. I felt that it was precisely at such a moment like this that one could get a glimpse at the fundamental power and the truth that a person possessed.

For Anselm Reyle’s INTO THE VOID Exhibition Vol.3

I’m now going off on a tangent here: I often encounter those, especially in Japan, who look merely at the surface of the contemporary art market, which is in truth the vortex of such human greed, beauty, jealousy, and more, and criticize knowingly, “How dare they make quick, easy money?” I look at them and think, “How dare they so shamelessly judge without understanding anything?” Those who enjoying bashing on Twitter. Those in the manga industry who pretend to know something about the art world. Those commentators who, in saying, “Murakami isn’t actually valued in the U.S. at all. He’s a bastard who spreads lies,” are themselves responding to the needs of the Japanese by spreading the lie. Perhaps, as they say, the art market may be dirty and mired in greed, but these critics of mine are the same ones who revere the works from the past that had emerged through just such a market. I wish they would realize how they are immaturely flaunting their authoritarianism.

Anyhow, let me continue on why I would want to hold Anselm’s exhibition, both back then and now.

Take this question I’d asked Anselm; “Takashi told me that he greatly appreciates my work, which is why he also owns some pieces. But he said, unfortunately he does not quite understand what my work is about and asked if perhaps I could explain it to him.”

Well, well, Anselm. It wasn’t that I actually didn’t understand. I already knew, on an instinctive level. The appropriation… Your stance of facing off against capitalism… The integration of liberation from labor and the art history… But I wouldn’t have known what to do had these words come out of your mouth.

It was a trick question. And you hesitated and stammered. It was fine. It was good.

Because I had always thought that the most important thing about being an artist was to survive by instinctively recognizing the situation you were in and responding to it. So Anselm’s reaction of confusion helped me truly and deeply believe in him.

The heart in pursuit of a mirage and the futile effort to potentially embody the emptiness—these are our perpetual themes. That is why there lies the essence of humanity in such futile efforts. This might be akin to what incites the rise of religion.

The quest for the artistic truth is at the core of our work as artists. Anselm’s stance that enables him to keep experimenting with this quest in each new work and his fearless attitude of forging ahead greatly encourages me.

All the works he is going to exhibit at the Kaikai Kiki Gallery are brand new body of works created just for this show in Japan.

Emptiness, distrust, debris, and the indefatigable heart that brings them together—I truly want the aspiring young Japanese artists to feel the scale of Anselm’s work that binds the emptiness together and manages to make sense of it. This is why I made his show coincide squarely with GEISAI and invited Anselm to be one of the juries.

I truly encourage you to come see the show of Anselm Reyle’s brand new works. And see for your self the feat of strength that makes sense of our chaotic heart with the power of emptiness.

Anselm will be involved in three events during his visit to Japan.
1. His solo show.
2. A curated show by him.
3. GEISAI as a jury.

The curated show listed in 2. above, SPECTRA VISION Curated by Anselm Reyle, is a tour of the show we had in April at Hidari Zingaro Berlin.

The five young artists are also visiting Japan for this occasion, and we drank all night together in Nakano last night. The curated show will take place in our three Zingaro spaces in Nakano Broadway, Hidari, Kaikai, and Oz.

The opening reception for Anselm’s solos show will be held at Kaikai Kiki Gallery in Motoazabu at 6 p.m. on September 21. All is welcome. I’d love to have you smart-ass art university students there, too. The next day, Anselm will participate in GEISAI#19 as one of the juries.
Also, on this occasion, we’ll open a bar within Nakano Broadway. FUGLEN , the new wave team that is shaking up the coffee industry, has produced the space. So much is happening, and I have been plotting all these for the past year, always with Anselm’s show as their axis. Please look forward to one of my star artists Anselm Reyle’s week in Tokyo!

See you at the exhibition of Anselm’s new works.

It will be great!

Takashi Murakami

Note: This message is based on Twitter messages in Japanese, compiled and edited for this blog.