Photograph via Gagosian Gallery.

8 Questions for Collaborators Takashi Murakami and Virgil Abloh

This morning in Paris, Murakami described meeting Abloh’s parents, and Abloh talked about the effect of Louis Vuitton on his collaboration with Murakami. It was a love fest.

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Jun 22 2018, 5:17pm

Photograph via Gagosian Gallery.

On a misty night last February, the usually staid stretch of Davies Street in London’s Mayfair district where Gagosian keeps one in its arsenal of gallery spaces was thronged with more than a hundred young men, all clamoring for a peek at Virgil Abloh and Takashi Murakami’s debut collaborative exhibition, “future history.” The paintings and sculptures they came to see were a glossy blend of Murakami’s flower petal-crowned character Mr. Dob and Abloh’s own Helvetica and parentheses-framed branding; you could call it a symposium of symbolism.

Now, just four months later, the duo is at it again with “Technicolor 2,” preparing to debut a second exhibition Friday night at one of Gagosian’s two Parisian locations.

In those four months, the paradigm in which they work has shifted. Virgil is, of course, the newly crowned creative director of Louis Vuitton menswear, a perch which has not only changed his life—he now lives on the Left Bank, for one—but arguably yanked the fashion industry into the modern era, at last. (I say yanked because, not surprisingly, the American fashion establishment has generally been more alacritous to welcome Abloh’s appointment than the French.) Yesterday, Abloh premiered his first Vuitton collection, “1,” with Murakami in attendance, and hosted a party dubbed “1.5” at the Salle Wagram, where he couldn’t help but DJ well into the night. A few hours later, and after a traditional Shinto prayer ceremony in the gallery, Abloh and Murakami discussed the future, art of referencing, and the importance of generosity for any artist.

GARAGE: How does this body of work relate to your first collaboration? Do you guys see these works as an extension of what you did together for London, or is this an entirely new collection?

Virgil Abloh: It’s an extension, though in some cases these works are new. Since the first exhibition, we’ve had double the amount of time, but we’re never in the same city for more than three or four days. But we have a system of how to communicate.

GARAGE: That must be Athi! [Virgil’s faithful right hand is Athiththan Selvendran.] Takashi, you said this of the last collection: “We want to see the newest things. That is because we want to see the future, even if only momentarily. It is the moment which, even if we don't completely understand what we have glimpsed, we are nonetheless touched by it. That is what we have come to call art.” How would you say these works relate to the future?

Takashi Murakami: Your question already is very “future” because you call these exhibitions “collections”!

GARAGE: Good answer. Virgil, your collaboration in February was explicitly influenced by Off-White. How much of this collection was influenced by Louis Vuitton?

Abloh: For the last few months I’ve been studying color theory in film. The Wizard of Oz [which was heavily referenced in his Vuitton collection] was branded Technicolor correction, and I was into that. If you look at [Murakami’s] color palette, it’s been very precise and over a large body of work. And mine, the brand name Off-White—I have a similar feeling for my natural choice in color. This collaboration puts those two things on display.

GARAGE: The fact that you started the show with a group of black models wearing all white, walking a Yellow Brick runway: Is that like your own color theory?

Abloh: Yeah, that was the metaphor. It took 30 people to paint that runway. It’s a canvas, what everyone was sitting on: 200 meters of one gradient painting. But as it relates to the exhibition, how are we thinking about color, how are we thinking about branded color?

GARAGE: Takashi’s Mr. Dob appears as a kind of stand-in for himself in the paintings that depict Gianlorenzo Bernini. So that might suggest that Bernini is a stand-in for you. Is that right? Is that because he represents an artist with a multi-practice career?

Abloh: My work is the same, in that way. Today we are here. Yesterday were somewhere else. Last night we were somewhere else. So those paintings were the looking to the past but describing [Bernini’s] practice, mixing it with [Murakami’s] practice, and branding it on the side.

GARAGE: Takashi, would you say there is a difference between a reference and a symbol?

Murakami: I don’t think there’s any difference between referencing in art and fashion, though the material use of each is different. In this collaboration, the ideas often came from Virgil; he says he came up with it in six seconds. And then I take that and work on canvas and do the material production. So the idea of the symbol of his ideas, in this case, is self-evident.

GARAGE: You recently wrote an introduction to Virgil for the Time 100 and called him “noble.” Can you explain what you meant?

Murakami: When I wrote that I was thinking about the purity of his humanity and his personality. But just two days ago I met his parents and it made sense that Virgil is who he is. His purity and humanity really show through in his work.

GARAGE: Virgil, if you had to describe Takashi, both the person and the artist, in a word, what would it be?

Abloh: I’d say generous. Generosity re-confirms my belief in art, that an artist meets the public half-way. We in our lifetime have the ability to be as impactful on a scale that’s as big as a politician or as big as a movie star. Often artists are recluses and let their work speak for them. I think [Murakami] is very generous to show his process and keep evolving and interfacing with the culture to further the belief that art is important. For the person on the street, it’s like who can they follow on Instagram actually see something develop? It’s a gateway to what they admire.