MCA MURAKAMI Exhibit Review – Why the Octopus Eats Its Leg

Editor’s Note - Read Picture this Post’s review of the exhibit “MCA MURAKAMI Exhibit Opening Report

Takashi Murakami Photo: Maria Ponce Berre © MCA Chicago.

Murakami beyond Kanye West

Japanese contemporary artist, Takashi Murakami brings his pop culture, sci-fi inspired, Eastern-meets-Western style to Chicago at his Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) exhibit. Murakami is most famously known through his collaborations with celebrities and in the fashion world. He is especially known as the artist who created the album art for rapper, Kanye West 2007's album Graduation and for his 2015 collaboration with fashion powerhouse, Louis Vuitton.

Born and raised in Tokyo, Murakami takes much of his inspiration from Japanese art history while also introducing the styles of Western contemporary art. Murakami creates his famous art style mixing Eastern and Western, low and high art and ancient and modern. Heavily inspired by American sci-fi (citing, in particular, Star Wars), he mixes cultural imports from Japan and America, creating many pop culture characters such as Kanye Bear and Mr. DOB. He has coined the term, "superflat" to describe this style, describing it as a combination of Japanese anime and manga style with traditional Japanese painting techniques in a flattened format.

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.

Museum of Contemporary Art

Staged on the fourth floor gallery at the MCA, The Octopus Eat Its Own Leg exhibit is a retrospective on Murakami's life as an artist, featuring over fifty works of art. The exhibit features old and new art, some of which have never been shown before and some that were created just for this exhibit. The exhibits features art from back to the 1980's, spanning three decades of Murakami art. Touring the exhibit, we walk through Takashi’s life as an artist, not only focusing on his fine art and collaborations, but also highlights of his work as a painter.

This exhibit is premised around the idea of rejuvenation and is called, The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg as it hints at a Japanese folklore. Octopi have been known to chew off their own damaged legs when in distress, knowing that a new one will grow back in its place.


This exhibit highlights Mr. Murakami's work as a painter through his Nihonga paintings. Holding a PhD in Nihonga, a traditional painting style by the Japanese that mixes ink, brush and mineral pigments, he blends traditional Japanese art styles, and mediums.

These paintings are unlike the Murakami style that is so well known in popular culture.  They draw heavily upon and use many traditional Japanese styles. However, these paintings work to chart the very beginnings of the Murakami that is present today. When entering this exhibit, we were surprised to see these paintings, as they are nothing like the Murakami whom we see today. There are no bright colors, no cartoon like characters. We see these paintings as the beginnings of Murakami.


Influenced by anime and manga, Mr. DOB, is a cartoon character, alter-ego of Murakami, whose origins are explored in this exhibit. Deconstructing the character, he tests the limits of DOB's representation in a variety of ways , but always maintaining the character's features like it's sharp teeth and green eyes. We then see DOB as the star in these art pieces with each art piece tweaking the character's design in one way or another. At some points, the character is thrust into the air and even featured on canvas board created using traditional Japanese styles, seemingly putting Mr. DOB out of place, almost as if he were a time traveler.

MCA Curator, Michael Darling, who has worked extensively with the artist , writes about the origins of DOB saying this character allowed Murakami to "channel his own angst and ebullience for artistic effect. DOB could be sweet or menacing." These variations in the exhibit showing DOB play with the idea of this character, as the viewer can see DOB becoming a sweet character or one that could illustrate terror. The character seems as if he were full of joy, flying in the air and also seemed tortured, with his features pushed to the sides of the canvas.

MCA Murakami
Takashi Murakami, ZuZaZaZaZaZa, 1994. Acrylic and silkscreen on canvas mounted on board, 59 x 67 in. (149.8 x 170.1 cm). Takahashi Collection. © 1994 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Photo: Norihiro Ueno.
MCA Murakami
Installation view, Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats its Own Leg, MCA Chicago, June 6 – September 24, 2017 Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.

Rejuvenation through Arharts

In 2007, Murakami drew back on the Japanese art styles he grew up studying. During this time, he researched and drew upon Japanese paintings and Buddhist figures. The 2011 Japanese earthquake affected Murakami greatly and he departed from that crowded, cartoon-inspired style turning to traditional art pieces to cope. Inspired by a group of monks known as Arhats, who are known to roam the land to heal and comfort people he focuses on these figures.

The big highlight for this writer was the Arhart paintings. We enter a large, dark room that signals a style change in Murakami as he goes back to his Japanese roots.  The hallway is a departure from the rest of the exhibit, the black wallpaper drawing a more serious note. Our eyes are immediately drawn to the Arhats panels lining the wall, each so detailed and full of color, we are taken aback and overwhelmed. This room holds 169 Arhats, in total, divided through two art pieces each taking up ten panels. They each are hung on one wall measuring in total, 118 1/8 x 393 11/16 inches.

There is so much more to see in this exhibit, that you too, like this writer might find it overwhelming. Inspired by film, fashion and other art styles, Murakami creates a place where the East meets the West and new and old converge into a happy medium. This exhibit is well worth the visit and should not be missed, it is hard to put into words what exactly Murakami's "superflat" style is— but the MCA does a great job to pack in Murakami's life as an artist.


For more information, visit the MCA Chicago Website 

Editor’s Note - Read Picture this Post’s review of the exhibit “MCA MURAKAMI Exhibit Opening Report"

Top slider photos:

Jeffrey Wells Photography & Gavin Ashworth

Bottom slider photos:

Nathan Keay © MCA Chicago.


June 10 - September 24, 2017


Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

220 E Chicago Ave

Chicago, IL 60611


Adults - $15

Students - $8

MCA members and youth 18 and under - Free

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