The phrase “if you know, you know” gets tossed around a lot but Shin Murayama actually deserves it. Murayama is the wizard of Oz humbly toiling behind the curtain, creating brilliant art out of apparent scraps exclusively for an audience of cultural heavyweights and fawning Instagram followers.
Let’s namedrop: Murayama’s made custom masks for Kendrick Lamar, Keith Hufnagel, Off-White™-aligned rock band HYUKOH, THESOLOIST. designer Takahiro Miyashita, and CLOT founder Edison Chen, to a few.
A$AP Rocky once got in touch about Murayama creating a bespoke mask to tie in with 2018 album Testing. Matthew M. Williams is such a big fan that he’s worked with Murayama on bespoke creations for both Givenchy and 1019 ALYX 9SM.
Beside the soft sculptures he creates eponymously, Murayama also oversees a clothing label, TWONESS, that’s collaborated with everyone from Stüssy to avant Japanese brand MIDORIKAWA, whose founder is Murayama’s cousin.
Quite a pedigree, as you can see (and that’s just for starters), but nothing that can be gleaned without being deeply invested in Murayama’s work.
And he’s just fine with keeping to himself, thanks.
Several years back, I interviewed Murayama back for a magazine feature and was struck by the contrast between his gorgeous work and his proclivity to shy away from fame.
See, Murayama is a true artist, so devoted to his work that he’s rather it do all the talking.
After patiently answering questions over email, Murayama politely requested that we didn’t print an image of his face; the interview was instead accompanied by images of my coworkers modeling his masks.
“Every culture in the world has had masks since time immemorial,” Murayama said at the time. “There have always been mask-makers in society. I’m just one of them.”
If you follow Shin Murayama on Instagram, you’ll probably grow acclimated to all the commenters begging for him to sell off his masks. He never does, of course.
That’s what drives his niche but ravenous following: Shin Murayama’s work is inherently exclusive. Not because it’s prohibitively expensive but because it isn’t sold publicly, ever. This is art for art’s sake.
So color me surprised when Murayama messaged me about an impromptu eBay auction of his work — his first public mask sale, if I remember correctly.
What made Murayama finally list some of his precious creations for sale?
“Just for fun,” he replied. “I happened to open a box with some of my old masks when cleaning up my storage a few days ago, and the idea just came to my mind.”
Simple enough. Simple format too: three day auction, $0.99 starting bids, five handmade masks that’re each one-of-a-kind and will never be seen again.
They’re classic Murayama, too, made of old ball caps replete with Stüssy, Polo, and Aphex Twin, one of Murayama’s favorite musicians.
Faced with a rare opportunity to slake their boundless demand, fans had already boosted the masks’ top bids up by several hundred dollars. You can’t normally put a price on this kind of ingenious craft but, in this case, I suppose you can.