When I heard Takashi Murakami’s retrospective The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg was being
installed at Chicagos’s Museum of Contemporary Art, my well being shot up a few points. No
longer living a train ride away from the Windy City, I made plans with myself to get my butt up to
the museum as soon as possible.
I’m not sure how I came to love Murakami and his famous self
made superflat artwork, but taking a few glances at his famous colorful daisies or his alter
persona Mr.Dob, makes it hard for anyone not to be more than just “kinda” intrigued by the
Japanese artist.His exhibit at the MCA was a retrospective that started off with his early years of
paintings from the 80’s all the way to the grand finale of his 2017 piece subtitled “The Octopus
Eats Its Own Leg”.
As I walked in to the start of the exhibit, I was taken aback by the images that
captured my view. Murakami’s career began with paintings created in the traditional Japanese
style of Nihonga, which incorporates special types of paper like washi (Japanese paper made by
hand) or silk. A lot of the pigments used in this style of painting are natural, like minerals, semi-
precious stones and shells. I was drawn to a painting on the back wall of the first room that
depicted a few people walking in front of three large nuclear cooling towers. The image was dark
and thick. The characters moving across the canvas were blobs of shadow while the smoke
pumping out of the reactor splotched up and out. The materials used included straw, which is
what appeared to make the smoke clot off of the canvas. I had never seen Murakami use this
style or technique before and I realized he was a master without distinction long before creating
Kanye West’s Graduation album cover or Louis Vuitton’s handbag designs.
As I continued on, I was introduced to Mr.Dob, a mouse-like character that Murakami had created as his personal
icon. Mr.Dob would appear as many different morphed versions throughout Murakami’s works.
Pieces were starting to become more familiar to me as colors started popping off the walls and
large anime eyed mushrooms peered at me from the canvases. This was the Murakami that I
knew and had absorbed through pop culture. His pictures of Japanese “high” art and “low” art
created images such as “727 (1990)”, which was a three paneled canvas that mimicked Japanese
screen painting, with layers of various purples and blues that were made to look centuries old
and worn. In the midst of all of this is a red eyed, dagger toothed Mr.Dob, demonically riding
white curling waves across the canvas and as the exhibit suggested “Mr.Dob is a time traveler
traversing Asian art history.”
Murakami’s coinage of the word “superflat” signified a creation of works that reference
various forms of Japanese graphic art, pop culture, and animation that came after World War ll.
One of the most iconic images created with superflat was Murakami’s daisies. Hundreds of
various sized and colored daisies smile across the canvas with big bowl shaped mouths and oval
eyes. The eyes of the viewer are led on a little journey across the canvas, taking in the mass of
flowers which appear identical at first but are stylized to be different. As I worked my way
through rooms that looped and swirled with galactic alien Mr.Dobs, animated creatures and
designs, my mind swirled with possibilities of creation and imagination. The beauty of this weird
display of ceiling to floor art made me feel like I was in Murakami’s own dream spaceship. I
arrived in a dark domed room with two larger that life sculptures of trolls, clubs in tow, who
guarded the entrance and exits like sentinels on either side of the wide and darkened room.
Illuminated across the left wall was an outstanding 9 panel display labeled “Dragon in Clouds –
Indigo Blue”, which was so large I couldn’t get a panorama photo of it.
Hidden in the corners of this room were two small paintings spray painted with glowing
orange paint. The first one read “The Octopus Eats” and the second “Its Own Leg”. Beneath
these words were a memoir by Murakami himself explaining his cycle of art, people, and ideas. I
think what drew me most to what he had to say was that he had chosen art as a way to escape
working with others but in turn that is exactly what he does. Self-proclaimed introverts
everywhere can identify with this feeling, myself included, and that is why, I think, when I
walked out of the exhibit I let out a huge sigh of relief. For experiencing something magical and
to have it come from a man who has to bite off his own self preserving identity once in awhile to
I highly recommend anyone in Chicago take a walk through the retrospective if
the chance arises. The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg will be in Chicago until September 24.
Click through the gallery below for a short preview of the retrospective: