The Handbag as Art: How Takashi Murakami Indulged My Theory

I always enjoy debating the merits of the handbag with our contemporary art specialists. For me, it’s natural to compare the luxury handbags we auction to works of art. From a tri-color special-order Hermès Kelly and matte crocodile Hermès Himalayan Birkin to a vintage crystal Judith Leiber minaudiere, these pieces, crafted by skilled artisans working at the apex of their fields, qualify, in my handbag-loving opinion, as art

Imagine my excitement when these two worlds collided on a recent summer evening, just one block from Lake Michigan. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg opened its four-month exhibition with a gala that delivered in every possible way. I don’t believe that a single guest left ArtEdge50 early, as singer and actress Janelle Monee performed for a crowd that included Mayor Rahm Emanuel, notable artists Theaster Gates and Nick Cave, along with, to everyone’s delight, the delightful Takashi Murakami, who was wearing his iteration of an octopus suit.

For years now, I have been viewing handbag collections that included pieces from Murakami’s collaboration with Louis Vuitton and watched as they hit the auction block, receiving a multitude of bids from ardent collectors and shoppers alike. From his limited-edition jewelry box to the much-loved Neverfull, the designs are always met with enthusiasm and admiration, and with affirmation of its ongoing appeal, the recently released Masters: A Collaboration between Louis Vuitton and Jeff Koons further rationalizes my supposition that handbags can be art.

Louis Vuitton Limited Edition Takashi Murakami Neverfull GM Tote Bag, Special Edition for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

Just a few blocks west of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, and only a few weeks later, Heritage Auctions hosted its inaugural Luxury Accessories auction in our River North gallery. We were pleased to bring luxury clients from around the globe to the Windy City both in person and virtually via HA Live! With a backdrop of world-class architecture and a convenient Midwest location, it’s no surprise that the auction exceeded all expectations as collectors responded to the thoughtfully curated collection featuring more than 600 remarkable lots. It is important to note that my colleagues, both in the Chicago office and visiting from Beverly Hills, Dallas and New York, unanimously agreed that the Murakami exhibit would be their free-time go-to.

I was thrilled to meet Murakami last month as he wandered ArtEdge50, enjoying the evening as the rest of the crowd did, and while he wasn’t carrying a handbag he was lovely enough to indulge, rather than debate, my art/handbag theory. Under the event’s mood lighting and loud music, it was challenging to decipher exactly what he said, so I’ll take artistic license and surmise that he agreed with my premise.

Heritage Auctions’ next Luxury Accessories Auction takes place Dec. 5 in New York, New York. With our office strategically located on Park Ave in NYC’s thriving art scene and steps from legendary luxury shopping, I will continue my “research” and seek out like-minded handbag lovers.

Barbara Stone Conn

Written by: Barbara Stone Conn

Consignment Director for Luxury Accessories in Chicago

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Posted by Heritage Editorial

This article was written as a collaborative effort by multiple experts within the category at Heritage Auctions.

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