Murakami show at the MCA: East meets West

Murakami show at the MCA: East meets West
LeeAnn Trotter interviews Takashi Murakami at media preview of "The Octopus Eats its Own Leg" opening June 6 at the MCA. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

A larger-than-life exhibition: Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg OPENS today, June 6th and runs through September 24, 2017 at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art before traveling to the Vancouver Art Gallery in Winter 2018 and to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in Summer 2018.

Blurirng the boundaries between East and West, high and low, ancient and modern, Japanese trained artist Takashi Murakami takes his cues from folklore, art history, world events and popular culture.

The name of the show, The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg, hints at the process of rejuvenation. An octopus in distress can chew off a damaged leg to ensure its survival, knowing that a new one will grow in its place--not unlike Murakami, the artist, who often feeds off his own prior imagery, or that of Japanese history, in order for his work to grow.

Takashi Murakami created an octopus-inspired character to celebrate the opening of Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg. © 2017 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Takashi Murakami created an octopus-inspired character to celebrate the opening of Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg. © 2017 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

The show, which covers Murakami's work from the 1980's to the present, offers a broad retrospective of his styles showcasing over fifty works and universal themes that have guided his work and engagement with history.

His over-sized pieces, mostly paintings, some sculpture, occupy nearly 12,000 square feet on the 4th floor of the museum.

Installation view, Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats its Own Leg, MCA Chicago, June 6 – September 24, 2017. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.

Installation view, Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats its Own Leg, MCA Chicago, June 6 – September 24, 2017. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.

Influenced by animated films (anime), comic books (manga), and global branding, Mr. Murakami created Mr. DOB in 1993.

Takashi Murakami, DOB’s March, 1995. Acrylic on canvas mounted on board, 27 9/16 x 39 3/8 in. (70 x 100 cm). Javier and Monica Mora, Miami. ©1995 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Photo: Norihiro Ueno.

Takashi Murakami, DOB’s March, 1995. Javier and Monica Mora, Miami. ©1995 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Photo: Norihiro Ueno.

The DOB character would become his cartoon-ish alter-ego that continues to evolve to this day.

Sometimes criticized for a commercial approach to his art, the artist has never shied away from the merchandise aspect of his career.

His relationship to pop culture reached a high point around 2007, when he began to collaborate with rapper Kanye West on album covers and videos. The iconic character at the center of the visual identity was dubbed the "Kanye Bear," meant to stand in for an adolescent West. Murakami later made a sculpture of the bear in his signature cartoonish style, replete with a gilded "Jesus piece" necklace popularized in the hip-hop community.

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Kanye Bear sculpture with Jesus necklace. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

At the current MCA exhibition, Murakami and the museum are pairing with Complexcon, to create "a collaborative pop-up experience" outside of the museum on specified days during the run of the exhibition.

Guests will be able to bring home a taste of the show by purchasing limited edition t-shirts, skate decks, hats, tote bags and more from a truck parked outside the MCA.

But there is a lot more to Murakami's art that visitors to the show will be able to experience starting with the artist's rarely seen early works, where he synthesizes traditional Japanese methods, materials, and formats to reference the dangers of nuclear power, comment on global consumerism, and lampoon both the excess and the self-seriousness of contemporary art.

In the late 1990's Murakami's developed his signature style of "Superflat"-- an ambitious concept that merges Eastern and Western artistic traditions meant to explain the cultural attributes of Post-World War II Japan, especially the popular image of Japan as a producer of saccharine consumer products such as Hello Kitty.

"Superflat" pairs traditional Japanese painting techniques with a contemporary anime-inspired aesthetic within a flattened picture plane--such as in the work below--creating a visual overload putting daisies on daisy wallpaper--one upping Andy Warhol's cows on cow wallpaper.mcatas4daisywallpaper-1

As years have gone by it seems Murakami is moving away from the celebrity cultures, with a departure from his highly commercial, cartoon-inspired work to a more reflective aesthetic.

His recent work is influenced by classic Japanese paintings from centuries past and researched imagery of Buddhist monks and figures.

In particular he has turned his attention to serious subjects such as the legendary band of Buddhist monks called Arhats who roamed the land in an attempt to heal and comfort people as well as other elements of Japanese and Buddhist cultural heritage.

Detail from 100 Arhats, 2013, Acrylic gold and platinum leaf on canvas mounted on board. Ten panels. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

Detail from 100 Arhats, 2013, Acrylic gold and platinum leaf on canvas mounted on board. Ten panels. Photo: Carole Kuhrt-Brewer

For this exhibition, Murakami has produced a new group of paintings that are being shown for the first time, including The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg, a 114-foot masterwork made up of over 35 panels that surround visitors in the gallery.

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