The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg, Takashi Murakami’s long awaited retrospective and his first solo exhibition in Canada, opens to the public at the Vancouver Art Gallery on Saturday (February 3), but the acclaimed Japanese artist was in town today (February 1) to hype up anticipation for the 55-plus-piece installation.
Dressed in a glittering Technicolour suit splashed with swirling illustrations of tentacles, a plush hat fashioned in the shape of a cutesy octopus, and a pair of Virgil Abloh x Nike Air Jordan 1 high-tops recently gifted to him by the Off White founder, Murakami appeared with VAG senior curator Bruce Grenville during an exhibition preview this morning. There, councillor Andrea Reimer declared, on behalf of Mayor Gregor Robertson, February 1, 2018—coincidentally the artist’s 56th birthday—as Takashi Murakami Day in the City of Vancouver. Selfies ensued.
“I think his work exemplifies the edge that Vancouver lives on,” Reimer said. “We’re a place where dramatic mountains meet ocean. We are Canada’s and one of North America’s youngest cities, and share an edge with one of Asia’s oldest cultures in Japan.”
Later, during a conversation with Grenville that cycled through numerous topics, Murakami reminisced on his past as a young struggling artist (“My earlier paintings, when I see [them] in a museum: I have no good memory”); shared his love of sci-fi (“I can critique when I see a Star Wars movie”); and revealed why exactly he pulls from history, sidelined subcultures, and other art and cultural arenas in his boundary-crossing work (“Number one is I want to make excitement, and number two is I have to survive”).
Known for his collaborations with musicians and fashion houses and his extraordinarily detailed paintings and sculptures that reference social issues like globalization and the threat of nuclear power, Murakami also explained what role he believes he plays in the broadcast and visual interpretation of such matters. “I think the artist’s job is to really dig deep into human beings, what is down in the profound part of human beings,” he said, speaking in Japanese through a translator. “And rather than have a direct impact on society now…I can sneak in some message for the future audience.”
Spanning the second level of the VAG, The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg will take visitors through three decades of Murakami’s career, from early works saturated in hues traditionally employed in nihonga to cartoonish canvases that follow his Superflat premise to intricate, historically driven paintings of cinematic scale. Of special note are the façade he’s created for the VAG’s Georgia Street exterior and the wallpaper installations and five-metre tall sculpture that dominate the venue’s rotunda. Much of it is very, very Instagrammable.
Keen viewers will observe the repetition of some of Murakami’s most recognizable designs, such as the beaming sunflower and shapeshifting Mr. DOB: a reality that gives truth to the exhibition’s slightly self-depracating title. “In order to create everything from scratch every time, he can’t come up with new ideas…so he’s constantly recycling not only different ideas or historical references but also a lot of his own motifs and characters from his paintings,” said Murakami’s translator. “He keeps taking them and morphing them and trying to create something that looks new. But he feels like he’s recycling and eating his own body in order just to survive because of his lack of ‘real’ talent.”
Organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and curated by Michael Darling, The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg begins its only Canadian showing at the VAG on Saturday (February 3). Check out the images below for a preview of the exhibition before you see it IRL.
The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg is at the Vancouver Art Gallery from February 3 to May 6.