Milano, Ronit – abstract

The Political Economy of the Monographic Exhibition: The Case of Takashi Murakami’s Ego

Ronit Milano

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Sheva

Ego was the title of Takashi Murakami’s monographic exhibition, held in Doha (Qatar) in 2012. With this exhibition Qatar launched its public declaration of interest and involvement in the arena of non-Arab contemporary art. In the proposed paper I will argue that Murakami’s huge retrospective-show was employed by its initiators for more than that: it facilitated Qatar’s plan to become a part of the contemporary economic and global political discourse. Analyzing the genealogy of Ego, I will contextualize Murakami’s exhibition in the political economy of Qatar at the time, in order to show how such an exhibition can shape the global cultural status of a country and affect its international-relations and its political potential profit.

As part of this study I will navigate through two methodological trajectories: the first is the issue of the relationship between museums and national political agendas, asking how political objectives construct curatorial practices and narratives; the second is the continuing commodification of the monographic exhibition in recent years, as to be used as a political instrument – a process that I will address as the turning of the monographic exhibition – especially that of a canonic art-superstar – into a commodity that has a price tag and that can be bought by political bodies that wish to use it politically. Delving into the roots of Ego, I will show how the Qatari government sponsored an earlier monographic exhibition of Murakami, held in 2010 at the Palace of Versailles, conditioning its support in the artist’s commitment to present an exhibition in Doha (which incarnated as Ego in 2012), aiming in this way to establish Murakami’s position in the contemporary art canon and subsequently to link Qatar to a particular cultural milieu that includes the leading countries of the West. Through this case study I will argue that monographic exhibitions, especially of contemporary art, have become a political instrument in the hands of governments, as part of a current globalist discourse.