Superfly: Hublot & Takashi Murakami’s Legacy of Time
The Japanese contemporary artist continues his horological explorations with NFTs, Hublot, and a new Classic Fusion Takashi Murakami Black Ceramic Rainbow pièce unique.
We’ve met a lot of great artists who use timepieces as their inspiration, but the founder of Japan’s Superflat art movement Takashi Murakami is the first one we’ve talked to who is using actual watchmaking and marketing as a part of his practice.
Once again, Murakami has teamed up with Swiss luxury watchmaker Hublot to release a new collection of real-world watches linked to non-fungible tokens. And we were invited to visit with the artist in New York and to preview a new creation – the Classic Fusion Takashi Murakami Black Ceramic Rainbow – in person.
This art object is part of a new collection, the fourth artistic venture between Hublot and Murakami, which involves 13 unique NFTs inspired by Japanese video games and television shows from the 1970s. Additionally, the NFTs are modeled after January 2021’s Classic Fusion Takashi Murakami All Black, which marked the first of the collaborations between the Nyon-based watchmaker and the artist.
The NFTs are tied to 13 physical watches that will debut at the Watches & Wonders in Geneva in April 2023. Each digital replica is offered in a unique rainbow hue and features Murakami’s iconic smiling flower emblem.
So why watches? And NFTs? We’ll let Murakami explain.
The World is Super Flat
Takashi Murakami is one of the most well-known fine artists working today. He paints; he sculpts, but his interests also cross over into the commercial world (such as fashion, merchandise, and animation). Moreover, he founded the Superflat movement in 2001, which is heavily influenced by the graphics and storylines of manga and anime.
Murakami was no stranger to collaborations when he was first introduced to Hublot. “At the time, I was collaborating with Louis Vuitton,” he told Watchonsita at the event in New York. “I was interested in the questions of what is art? What is commercial? What is a branding exercise?”
Still, as curious as Murakami was, the relationship was not love at first sight. “When they first approached me, I didn’t want to do a regular case with a flower design, so I refused,” he recalled.
However, at the urging of Michael Tay, the managing director of The Hour Glass in Singapore, the artist eventually revisited the offer but only under the condition that he could visit Hublot’s factory in Switzerland. So, in February 2020, Murakami traveled to Nyon and met with CEO Ricardo Guadalupe and former Hublot boss Jean-Claude Biver. At the end of that trip, and after learning about the process of making Hublot’s innovative timepieces, he knew he could make something special: “That memory is pretty sweet.”
At the same time, Murakami was thinking about his legacy. “As an artist, I like to think about the relationship between history and my art,” he explained. This also led him to consider his collectors: “To create, I need collectors for my practice to survive. I need to figure out ways to get them to collect.”
To further understand this relationship, Murakami went on his own collecting journey by getting into NFTs. “When you’re collecting, there’s a dopamine response. Maybe too much,” he told us, laughing. “It’s like a drug. I tried to collect NFTs, and the chemicals went wild!”
The timing of the project also influenced his artistic vision. “During the pandemic, the market in art and watches exploded,” Murakami said, “The watch is no longer something to measure time; it’s become a statement about time.” Thus, more and more, he began to think of the NFTS as examples of conceptual art.
And according to Murakami, “There is a separation between physical art and digital we need to overcome that.” Times are changing, and as a society, we are dealing with uncomfortable ideas, including the commodification of art. With this most recent series, Murakami is asking: Should art be pleasant?
“One of my motifs is the smiling flower, but most of my work is on the darker side,” explained Murakami. Marrying all experiences is what makes his work so captivating.
This duality is why he found visiting Hublot’s factory so inspiring and why working with NFTs so freeing. “When I was young, I was chasing my own style. I was asking: ‘What is my style,’ instead of ‘What am I trying to say?’ By working with NFTs or exploring what watchmakers can do with their machines,” he added.
Our first meeting with Murakami was at a dinner for media and friends of Hublot and the artist. It was a relatively low-key affair held in an event space above the former Four Seasons in architect Phillip Johnson’s legendary Seagram Building.
Not only was it a pop culture moment, but it was also Murakami’s 64th birthday, which felt hard to believe because he looks (and moves) like a much younger Hypebeast. He worked the room during cocktails, and when Hublot CEO Ricardo Guadalupe presented him with a cake and wall clock, he sprung up from his seat to signal his appreciation to every guest in the room.
We met again the next day to talk about his message. Wearing an embroidered varsity jacket with his hair pulled up in a top knot, Murakami was happy to discuss his artistic philosophy and how it fits with watchmaking. The goal is to build bridges between worlds: High and low culture, the West and the East, the unobtanium and accessible. Society and technology are always evolving, and sometimes that can feel scary, but Murakami’s art is here to help us embrace the light and shadow equally so we can keep growing.
That night we got to see Murakami’s full artistic vision come to life at a launch event for the physical timepiece. The Classic Fusion Takashi Murakami Black Ceramic Rainbow features a spinning flower adorned with rubies, sapphires, amethysts, tsavorites, and topaz.
The lightness of the ceramic case and the motion of the swirling, sparkling colors brought us much joy. But the blackness of the case also hints at the existence of a shadowy plane, especially when you contrast it with the limited edition Classic Fusion Takashi Murakami Sapphire Rainbow from last December.
When he entered the event space, the artist was in full Murakami regalia topped by a trippy happy flower cap. The crowd went wild and started to climb on top of chairs to get better cell phone photos. Honestly, it felt a bit like being in the ocean when a big wave rolls in. Murakami’s hat appeared above the crowd like a boat’s sail, and in his wake followed a trail of admirers.
It was fascinating to see the energy of a room transform so quickly, especially since most of the attendees had been present and polite at dinner the night before. This presentation, I realized, was part of the art.
(Images © Hublot - TM/KK)