FORT WORTH, TX.-
This summer, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
hosts the highly anticipated major retrospective Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg, showcasing more than three decades of Murakami's paintings, from his earliest mature works to his most recent, never-before-seen paintings. Across over fifty works, this seminal exhibition reveals the consistent, universal themes that have guided the artist's work, reflecting his exquisite level of craft and insightful engagement with history. The exhibition was organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and curated by MCA Chief Curator Michael Darling. Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg will be on view to the public at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth from June 10 through September 16, 2018.
One of the most imaginative artists working today, Murakami has created a colorful cast of characters inspired by folklore, art history, and popular culture that blurs the boundaries between high and low, ancient and modern, Eastern and Western. His signature style, which he calls "Superflat," pairs traditional Japanese painting techniques with a contemporary, anime-inspired aesthetic within a flattened picture plane. The title of the exhibition is a Japanese folk saying that hints at the process of rejuvenation. An octopus in distress can chew off a damaged leg to ensure survival, knowing that a new one will grow in its place. Similarly, Murakami often feeds off his own prior imagery, or that of Japanese history, in order for new work to emerge.
Murakami is widely known for both his fine art and commercial output - including collaborations with pop icons and fashion house Louis Vuitton - and this exhibition presents the first serious survey of his work as a painter. It provides a sustained analysis of the artist's relationship to the traditions of Japanese painting while borrowing from the Pop Art tradition. Murakami picks up visual cues from the world of mass production and playfully equates himself with a corporate entity. These works can be seen as early examples of Murakami's interest in the power of branding and global commercialism.
Influenced by animated films (anime), comic books (manga), and global branding, Murakami created Mr. DOB, a recognizable character that would be his cartoonish alter-ego. This stylized mouse continues to evolve. Part brand ambassador, part self-portrait, Mr. DOB has paved the way for other characters throughout the artist's career. From his first, highly simplified version in 1993, Mr. DOB has become more complicated over time, turning into a mutating monster, but the core characteristics of round face and ears with the letters D, O, B are always consistent.
The continual adaptation of his iconic Mr. DOB figure reveals Murakami's interest in the mutant form stretching back to his earliest Nihonga paintings. Shown together, Murakami's cast of characters and his palette of signature motifs, like anime eyes, jagged teeth, and bulbous letterforms, become demonstrations of the fluidity of his Superflat concept, a visual skin that could spread over and occupy any imaginable surface, from paintings and sculptures to plush toys, stickers, and countless other consumer products.
In Murakami's rarely seen early works, he synthesizes traditional Japanese methods, materials, and formats. Trained in the Nihonga style of painting, which utilizes mineral pigments for powerfully pure colors and emphasizes careful craftsmanship, Murakami created works in the 1980s that began with animal imagery and an almost spiritual earthiness and evolved into pure abstraction. At the same time, the artist began to introduce more explicitly contemporary content into the works, using centuries-old materials to reference the dangers of nuclear power, comment on global consumerism, and lampoon both the excess and the self-seriousness of contemporary art.
The merging of Eastern and Western artistic traditions moved into new territory in the late 1990s, especially around Murakami's development of his theory of the Superflat. This ambitious concept was meant to explain the cultural attributes of post-World War II Japan, especially the popular image of Japan as a producer of saccharine consumer products such as Hello Kitty. Within a Superflat world, the otaku, or maladjusted comic book geek, became the true driver of contemporary culture. Murakami's paintings and sculptures of these years were shaped by these theories.
Mushrooms can be found in Japanese art history, and Murakami's rendering of them in the nearly 13-foot-wide sculpture DOB in The Strange Forest (Blue DOB), 1999, is surreal and hallucinogenic. Likewise, his smiling technicolor daisies have become one of his most popular and recognizable forms. His daisies are featured in exquisitely painted canvases, as well as stickers, plush pillows, and skateboards, among other products.
Murakami's relationship to pop culture reached a high point around 2007, when he began to collaborate with rapper Kanye West on album covers and videos. The iconic character at the center of this visual identity was dubbed the "Kanye Bear," meant to stand in for an adolescent West. Murakami later made a sculpture of the bear in his signature cartoonish style, replete with a gilded "Jesus piece" necklace popularized in the hip-hop community. Murakami recently revisited his creative partnership with West for a new painting, presented in this exhibition for the first time.
After finding himself at the center of luxury and celebrity cultures, Murakami began to depart from the highly commercial, cartoon-inspired aesthetic that garnered him popular acclaim. He returned to classic Japanese paintings from centuries past and researched the imagery of Buddhist monks and figures. He drew upon this more serious source material for solace and inspiration when addressing the massive earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 15,000 people in 2011 in Japan.
He turned to historical paintings to find an appropriate response, attracted to a legendary band of monks called Arhats, who were tasked by the Buddha to remain in this world for near perpetuity to save the people. This discovery fueled a growing body of paintings featuring wizened and highly individualized groups of Arhats, as well as other elements of Japanese and Buddhist cultural heritage.
Murakami founded the Hiropon factory (now called Kaikai Kiki) in Saitama in 1996, first as his studio and then as an art production and art management corporation to market his art and foster emerging artists. Since then, he has become known for several high profile commercial ventures, forays into animation and film, and his own colorful, post-apocalyptic characters.
Murakami's work is in private collections and foundations as well as major public collections. Murakami was born in Tokyo and studied at Tokyo University of the Arts, earning a BFA in 1986, an MFA in 1988, and a PhD in 1993. MCA Chief Curator Michael Darling has known and worked with Murakami for twenty years, and he curated the American presentation of the artist's Superflat exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, in 2001.