Takashi Murakami on the verge of bankruptcy due to COVID-19

The pandemic has plunged the global art industry into financial crisis, from auction houses to galleries.

Celebrated Japanese contemporary artist Takashi Murakami took to Instagram on Tuesday (2 June) to tell the world his art company Kaikai Kiki is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy in the wake of the pandemic.

In a 15-mintue long clip, Murakami shared his “heartbreaking story” from his Tokyo-based studio, saying he had no choice but to suspend production on a number of ventures due to financial woes, which included a sci-fi movie “Jellyfish Eyes Part 2: Mahashankh” that he has been working on for nine long years. 

The film’s prequel “Jellyfish Eyes”, released in 2013, was not a “good success business-wise”, Murakami admitted in the clips, and that the decision to press ahead with the sequel was “foolish”.

“I lost everything”, he said and added: “almost bankrupt”.

In the video, punctuated by the film’s behind-the-scenes footages, the artist explained at length how he has become a contemporary artist while his first love was mechanical design for sci-fi movies. The film was supposed to be a project that realises his “childish dream”. 

The artist is a polymath who has a background in anime and Nihonga, a traditional Japanese painting style originated in the Meiji period. His signature bold-hued cartoon characters, such as sun flowers with smiley faces and eerie winking eyes, appeared not only at major galleries and museums worldwide but also on limited-edition Louis Vuitton bags, Supreme T-shirts and Kanye West album covers.

His The Simple Things sculpture in collaboration with celebrity Pharrell Williams sold for a staggering HK$21.7m at Christie’s Hong Kong last year. The work features Murakami’s trademark character Mr. DOB carrying in his mouth seven objects selected by Pharrell.

The Simple Things (2008-2009) | Takashi Murakami & Pharrell Williams

An article on Artnet reiterated Murakami’s departure from his longtime dealer Blum & Poe gallery last year. The split, Artnet suggested, may have been the result of his extravagant spending when sales of his fine art fell short of expectations. Speculation loomed that the reason for Murakami’s many collaborative projects with fashion labels was due to weakening demand for his fine art, according to the article.

Murakami’s announcement has sparked concerns from his clients as to rather they will receive what they’ve commissioned, prompting the artist to share photos showing a commissioned sculpture in progress. Featuring the Murakami’s signature smiley flower, the artwork was supposed to be done by May, but has been postponed until fall due to the pandemic.