It’s the artist’s first show in Russia, debuting at Moscow’s Garage Museum

Japanese artist Takashi Murakami is bringing his toys-on-acid style to Moscow’s Garage Museum of Contemporary Art. The show Under the Radiation Falls is his first show in Russia and is on view from now through February 4, 2018.

Murakami’s signature — playful, toy-like designs underlaid with more nuanced, occasionally graphic subtexts — is on full display in the exhibit curated by Garage’s senior curator Katya Inozemtseva. More than 70 artworks are organized into five sections, each delving into a different Japanese cultural phenomenon. The ‘Kawaii’ section, for instance, features Murakami’s trademark smiling flowers as a depiction of the Japanese concept of “cuteness.” Hello Kitty characters, Pokémon and Doreamon all make cameos.

2017 has been a crazy year, so far, for Murakami. His first Scandinavian solo show, “Murakami by Murakami,” ran from February to May at Oslo’s Astrup Fearnley Museet, and was followed shortly after by his exhibition of paintings, “The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg,” at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. His Chicago show ended just five days before his opening at Garage.

“It is one of Murakami’s dearly held tenets,” wrote the New York Times Magazine in 2005, “that demarcations between fine art and popular merchandise are completely un-Japanese.” Murakami’s fascination — and intense grasp — on the relationship between art and capitalism paired with his penchant for playful obscenity is especially interesting to see played out in Russia, where a relatively tight grip on the arts is still present and obscenity is banned.

If any place is up to the task, it’s Garage Museum. It’s Russia’s only public archive of contemporary art from the 1950s to present, and it offers some of the most inclusive programming for disabled people. Murakami has been talking about the physical and emotional effects of nuclear fallout for decades, and it feels especially prescient now. The artist knows many of his cute characters have a creepy underbelly.

“After the second world war, we have nothing to say so we can smile and try and keep any communication positive,” he told the South China Morning Post. “I have just seen in a newspaper a picture of Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe smiling. When Abe went to see Donald Trump, he was also smiling. But as with Hello Kitty, the prime minister smiling is cute but also a little bit creepy.”

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