It’s February 1, 2018, 8:40 a.m. and Murakami is already getting wired in for the media preview interview at the Vancouver Art Gallery for the opening of his show, The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg. I’m surprised to see him there so early, before most of the media and staff have arrived. And it’s not just an interview; Murakami is “on”. By 8:43 a.m. he has his mic set up. By 8:44 a.m. he has picked his octopus hat, complete with chin strap, up off the floor and perched it atop his head. He sits with slight anticipation, but complete comfort. He notices someone taking his photo and grins, ear-to-ear, as if bringing them in on a joke. I get the sense that he enjoys this. I also get the sense that this is perfectly orchestrated for a specific purpose, for a specific audience. Murakami does not mess around.
He doesn’t believe that an artist is so much an agent of change, as a producer of cultural artifacts
It doesn’t take much to realize that Murakami is a serious artist. He has been producing art since the 1980s and has rubbed elbows with high rollers like Kanye West and Louis Vuitton. But his art doesn’t aspire to great pretensions. He doesn’t believe that an artist is so much an agent of change, as a producer of cultural artifacts. As a result, his art maintains a purity and avoids the heavy intellectualization that modern art tends to demand. This is not to say that his art lacks impact. I would argue quite the opposite.
If I were to describe Murakami’s work in two words, I would say it is disturbingly beautiful
If I were to describe Murakami’s work in two words, I would say it is disturbingly beautiful. The soft purples and smooth lines of 727 almost lure the viewer into believing there isn’t a monster reminiscent of Mickey Mouse (in fact a version of his character Mr. DOB) as the main subject. The room including pieces titled, Tan Tan Bo, Tan Tan Bo Puking – aka Gero Tan and DOB in The Strange Forest (Blue DOB), feels like a nightmare after hours of playing video games and taking hallucinogenic drugs.
The room … feels like a nightmare after hours of playing video games and taking hallucinogenic drugs.
He … offers us, instead, raw, messy, monstrous beings, that have been lurking in our subconscious for lifetimes
But the room that houses his strongest work, in my opinion, is the one with images that are stretched out, like scrolls, and lit up from behind. Fukushima in 2011 had an impact on Murakami and traditional Japanese painting started to influence his work again. These pieces show evidence of his research into Buddhist iconography, with titles like: 100 Arhats, 69 Arhats Beneath the Boghi Tree and Isle of the Dead. Here he moves somewhat further away from modern iconography and offers us, instead, raw, messy, monstrous beings, that have been lurking in our subconscious for lifetimes. Although these image are in some ways, more disturbing than his earlier work, they are also surprisingly meditative.
(Also check out my blog post about Howie Tsui’s, Kowloon Walled City, which I find somewhat reminiscent of these works.)
Until I started researching Murakami’s career, I did not know the scope of his work. He directed the film, Jellyfish Eyes, and co-curated my personal favourite 2016 exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Juxtapoz x Superflat. With his retrospective exhibit, Murakami spared no effort in taking over Vancouver, as I’m sure he has, and will do, with all the other stops on his tour. He created a huge art piece to hang off the front of the Vancouver Art Gallery along Georgia street, littered images of flowers all over the windows and walls of the gallery, and inserted a giant sculpture in the middle of the rotunda, along with new art custom designed for the space. It’s like a colour bomb went off at the Vancouver Art Gallery. But don’t let the vibrant colours fool you. This show has meat. The evolution of Murakami’s art is fascinating to witness and it demonstrates his ability to recycle and reinvent himself as each new phase of his life demands.
Don’t miss the Murakami storm in Vancouver!
The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg, will be here
February 3, 2018 – May 6, 2018.