Imagine the myriad inspirations for the title of Takashi Murakami’s new blockbuster retrospective, The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg, which opened today, June 6, at MCA Chicago. But don’t count on getting a definable answer from the artist himself. Like an octopus busy operating with eight arms, this artist is busy with multiple endeavors at any given time (eight off the top of our heads include artist, curator, gallerist, filmmaker, designer, collector, sculptor, animator). And we’re sure this octopus is busy juggling and managing what is one of the most prolific contemporary art careers of the last 50 years. But what does the reference to the octopus really mean? We know an octopus can regrow lost limbs, so perhaps Murakami is referring to his spectacular ability attach and detach himself from his seemingly countless endeavors? Or perhaps, just as the brilliant essay on Hyperallergic noted a few weeks back, this is Murakami's ode to the octopus as imperial symobol of impending doom and influence, or as the great writer Allison Meier mentioned, "Since the 19th century, the motif of an octopus on propaganda maps has represented the inhuman spread of evil, its tentacles grasping for land and power." And Murakami has long been fascinated by Imperialism, especially from the West, and how it relates to Japan and Japanese history. So, in a sense, the Octopus could mean many different things. But that is Murakami's career; complicated, fascinating, ambitious, enthralling, and bold.
Funny thing is, Takashi, our co-curator for 2016’s Juxtapoz x Superflat only minimally acknowledged his artistic impact and cultural milestones when we spoke prior to his exhibition at MCA Chicago. “I have no feeling of pride,” Murakami says when we asked him about looking back on the work in The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg. “That's why I chose this title. I am actually embarrassed by my artistic expressions.” The show, arranged and curated by MCA’s Michael Darling, features over 30 years of work that spans Murakami’s career, including some from his early days being shown in North America for the first time. Darling does a brilliant job with the range of the works in the show, from Takashi's earliest works completed at University that show the artist was fascinated with Western Art, nuclear power, war, Japanese iconography and his own original characters even at this point in his career. And of course, the exhibition shows the evolution of DOB, Murakami's iconic character, and how it grew as a symbol in some of his biggest and most famed works from the late 1990s into the early 2000s. Octopus doesn't stop there; you get a relentless array of sculptures, Flower Balls, Kanye collaborations, Arahat paintings, the intense "A" and "Un" sculptutres from a 2014 show at Gagosian, and even a recent sculpture finished in Tokyo that shows Takashi's new explorations with graffiti style motifs. “This exhibition is an effort to shed light on the seriousness of Takashi’s practice and some of the things that have motivated him during his career so far,” says Darling. “I think my job is to show what a good artist he is at his core.” —Evan Pricco
The show is up through September 24, 2017 at MCA Chicago.