A ‘New Day’ for Japan: Takashi Murakami Partners with Christie’s for Charity Auction

Takashi Murakami in front of his painting, “New day DOB’s Acrobatic Spectacular: Society” (2011), expected to bring between $350,000 and $450,000 at tomorrow’s sale. Below, he is joined by Yoshitomo Nara and KAWS. (Photos: Stephanie Murg)

On March 11, 2011, Takashi Murakami was in his Tokyo studio, busy with preparations for the biannual GESAI art fair that was scheduled to open in a couple of days. Then everything changed. “It was a total shock,” he said the other day at Gagosian Gallery in New York, recounting his experience of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake that triggered a tsunami and nuclear accidents. “In the days immediately following the earthquake, there was panic and hysteria, but eventually we started to think how we could do something, with artists.” That something was “New Day,” which began as a blog-based version of GESAI (the fair was cancelled in the wake of the disaster) and evolved into a range of activities, including the sale of merchandise and special installations at art fairs, with all proceeds donated to organizations helping with recovery efforts. Now the initiative is primed for its biggest event yet, an auction of 21 works donated by artists including Murakami and members of his Kaikai Kiki stable (Mr., Aya Takano) as well as the likes of Damien Hirst, Cindy Sherman, Jeff Koons, and Yoshitomo Nara. The sale takes place tomorrow morning at Christie’s in New York and is expected to bring in between $3.5 million and $5 million to fund relief efforts in Japan by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, Global Giving, and International Medical Corps.

“The earthquake happened around three in the afternoon,” said Murakami, standing before a self-portrait in which even his goatee is contorted in grief. “At five o’clock, [Christie’s owner] Francois Pinault sent me an e-mail asking ‘Are you OK? Is there anything I can do to help?’ And that e-mail was really the starting point of this project.” As he walked a scrum of journalists around Gagosian’s fifth-floor space on Madison Avenue, Murakami gestured to the eye-popping line-up of works donated by artist-friends he had recruited to participate. “The artists gave us supernice pieces,” he said, gesturing to a quartet of photos from Sherman’s 1976 “Bus Riders” series and a maquette of a pink balloon poodle, then still being silkscreened onto stainless steel at Koons’ studio (the finished product is expected to bring $600,000 to $800,000 tomorrow). “Initially I was thinking of more gloomy images,” said Mr., speaking through a translator about his “Okay!!” (2011), in which an anime-style schoolgirl pumps her fist and flings off a hot pink mary jane. “But I decided it was better to paint pictures that are more encouraging, as a way to convey ‘let’s get going.'”

Nara in front of his Ramones-inspired “Hey Ho Let’s Go” (2011) and Aya Takano with her 2011 canvas, “I had a dream, in the aftermath of the disaster, water was gushing out from the mountains, and formed a pond.”