Today is the beginning of the summer solstice, and Google is marking the occasion with a Google Doodle by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. It’s called “The First Day of Summer” and it’s oh-so-adorable, as Murakami is wont to be. Also, as noted by ArtInfo, it “could hardly be more self-promotional.”
The two charming little characters in the Doodle are KaiKai and Kiki, otherwise known as the mascots of Murakami’s production company, KaiKai Kiki. They’re available as stuffed animals, on posters, as figurines, and so on. KaiKai is the white one with the big ears, and Kiki is the pink one with fangs. They “represent the artist’s spiritual guardians.” They’re kind of like Keith Haring’s “radiant child” or Jean-Michel Basquiat’s crown.
It’s really a neat trick by Murakami, getting his most salable items onto the home page of Google! He has a knack for commercializing his artwork, another parallel with Haring. Remember the collaboration with Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton? Even the art movement that he founded, the “superflat” painting style, was a clever bit of niche marketing: “Superflat (the two words of the Japanese catalogue became one Google-friendly neologism on arrival in America) was a branded art phenomenon designed primarily for Western audiences and markets at a time when the Japanese contemporary art market had been decimated by the bursting of the economic bubble,” posits this 2004 piece of criticism in ArtForum. So, nothing new here; Murakami has always been a savvy commercial artist.
I suppose it’s tempting to sniff, as ArtInfo does, at the thought that Murakami would use his Google Doodle to try and sell stuff, the idea being that artists who are also good businesspeople is still shocking in 2011. This is an example of an artist taking advantage of a unique opportunity to reach every person who uses Google, i.e. basically everyone who uses the Internet. Pretty shrewd.