The devastating disaster of the March 11, 2011 tsunami and the nuclear accident afterwards were both a shock and inspiration for Japanese Neo-Pop artist Mr. In response, he composed a massive installation made of hundreds of everyday objects from Japanese life. It’s the central work in this exhibition, presented here with a series of new paintings and other work. A reminder of the debris that blanketed the Tohoku area in the aftermath of 3.11 tsunami and earthquake, the installation embodies the post-disaster fear and frustration of the Japanese people since the catastrophic events.
Live On, which is organized by SAM, presents Mr.’s art of the past 15 years and is his first solo exhibition in a U.S. museum. Born in 1969, Mr. is a protégé of Takashi Murakami, internationally acclaimed icon of Japanese Pop art. He borrowed the name “Mr.” from “Mister Giants” (Shigeo Nagashima), the superstar clean-up hitter of the postwar Yomiuri Giants baseball team.
Having grown up during Japan’s postwar “economic miracle” period, Mr. often exercises his art as a weapon against social expectations. As a member of the otaku subculture, his work ties closely with the lifestyle, which is marked by obsessive interests in anime and manga and being confined in one’s room with limited interactions with other people. He says,
I’ve had one eye on anime since the day I was born.
The exhibition includes a group of Mr.’s new works that take kawaii (cute) Japanese Pop art to a new dimension, known as moe (which literally means budding). Through fictional, adorable characters, moe speaks to a longing for youth, or youthful energy. It grew out of Japanese youth subculture, and its rebellion against authority and political engagement in favor of fantasy and virtual experience.
While Mr.’s art often appears playful at first—even cheerful—its veneer of bright imagery expresses darker themes and addresses anxiety. The works seen here offer his personal and artistic responses to trauma—whether natural disaster, war, psychological angst, or social anxiety—and demonstrate defiance against such adversity.