Hitting the Vuitton Murakami Shop at the Brooklyn Museum

Instead try Canal Street.

"Guess what, Max? Mommy is going to take you to see a great big sculpture!" "Emma, don't bother the nice elevator lady!" "No, Caitlin, we are not going to see any more art unless you get back in your stroller right now!" This cacophony of fake enthusiasm, finger-wagging, and veiled threats follows me as I make my way through the day-care center that is the Brooklyn Museum on a spring Sunday.

Like the hundred thousand toddlers all around me, I am here to take in the Takashi Murakami exhibit. OK, so I never heard of this guy until he started collaborating with Marc Jacobs on a series of cutesy-poo Louis Vuitton handbags—now I want to see for myself the in-museum Vuitton boutique, much maligned in its previous incarnation at MOCA in L.A., where you can actually buy $2,000 handbags, not the usual boring books and scarves that dominate gallery shops.

As it turns out, I missed the real retail action, which took place at the opening-night gala a few days earlier, where attendees entered the show through a mock Canal Street. According to a spokesperson for the museum: "[Vuitton] created it in our sculpture garden at the rear of the museum. It resembled Canal Street, with shops that appeared to be selling bootlegged goods, some with their gates down, or with signs that said something like 'Closed by order of . . .' They were selling what at first glance appeared to be knockoffs, except the bags were real—the vendors were actors, and so were the buyers."

Make it till you fake it: the author's own "Murakami."
Staci Schwartz
Make it till you fake it: the author's own "Murakami."

Actors impersonating impoverished illegal immigrants trying to make a living? Who came up with this swell idea? Not since Marie Antoinette dressed as a shepherdess has such blatant bad taste, such revolting hauteur infected a social gathering. (Maybe it's a French thing?) In any case, this grotesque Potemkin Village is torn down by the time I visit, so instead of expressing my outrage at fake fake-bag booths, I'm battling toddlers to get a look at Murakami's cartoon films.

No dice—the rug rats rule the screening room. So I wander over to a trio of the artist's lascivious pixies, who remind me of the talking animatronics (hey, they're sculptures, too) at Caesars Palace in Vegas. These creepy fairies pale in comparison to the larger-than-life nude wrangler entitled My Lonesome Cowboy, who has some kind of disgusting gray effluvia shooting out of his wiener. The same repulsive substance is emanating from the engorged titty of his companion. Stand and stare as long as you like, but don't attempt to take these wastrels home—"No pictures!" a guard says sharply. Well, maybe they're in the show's $65 catalog, if you must own a photo of them.

As for me, I'd rather own a handbag. In fact, as I pass a huge mural of mushrooms covered with eyes and realize I am approaching the Vuitton shop, my heart begins to flutter with excitement, an involuntary reflex that in this case is accompanied by just a little shame.

It's not like I don't have a long history with Murakami Vuittons, a sad saga that I have chronicled many times in print and in person to anyone who would listen. Because I am a pathetic victim, when these bags were first introduced several years ago, I put myself on a list for a stupid overpriced satchel decorated with pink smiley-face flowers. Just the fact that you couldn't buy the damn thing made me—and thousands of other suckers around the world—troop to their local LV outlet and give not just our names but an imprint of our credit cards to a snotty salesperson who promised to call the very day the bag arrived, which in my case was the 12th. Of never.

In the end, I went down to Canal Street, the same ratty Canal Street that Vuitton thought was so witty to make fun of. And there I found a wonderful fake flowered satchel for $35, which I thought a cool guy like Murakami would probably get a kick out of, since the nameless third-world artisan who made it added some flourishes that LV hadn't thought of, like silver faux-snakeskin trim and mirror studs. But it turns out I am wrong about Murakami, as I am about so many things. A wall text at the museum announces that "the concept of copyright itself holds an exalted position within Murakami's practice, rooted in the acknowledgement of his work as simultaneously interweaving deeply personal expression, high art, mass culture and commerce."

What care I about the concept of copyright? All I know is, it's a good thing I got this Murakami-bag business out of my system before I visit the museum Vuitton store, where the whole panoply of Murakami-Vuitton collaborations over the years—the cheery cherries, the inane flowers—are ensconced in glass showcases. I point to a jewelry box with a Murakami spaceman painted on it and ask the salesman, who is wearing a white suit and white loafers with little gold LVs on them, how much it costs. In a repetition of my humiliation at the Vuitton store years ago, Mr. White Suit tells me the stuff in the case is not for sale, it's part of the exhibit.

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