CHICAGO FETES MURAKAMI: Takashi Murakami is receiving a major retrospective, “The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg,” at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago — the artist’s first museum survey in North America in 10 years, and top names from art, music, fashion and political circles converged to celebrate the exhibit and the MCA’s 50th anniversary last Saturday. More than 600 guests attended the gala, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Amy Rule; Leslie Bluhm; Marc Ecko; Ikram Goldman; Desiree Rogers; artists Nick Cave, Hebru Brantley, Theaster Gates and Kerry James Marshall; art gallery owners Larry Gagosian, Easy Otabor, Emmanuel Perrotin, Jeff Poe and Tim Blum; countless socialites; and performer Janelle Monáe.
Guests were invited to preview the exhibit, its title taken from Japanese folklore, before sitting down to dinner in a Murakami-inspired setting with oversized light fixtures, painted with psychedelic Octopus imagery, looming over each table while the artist himself, dressed in an Octopus-inspired ensemble and hat, personally greeted guests — snapping photos and selfies and striking animated poses.
Curated by Michael Darling, the retrospective features 58 works, spanning 10,000 square feet of gallery space, and traces Murakami’s 30-year career from the 1980s to the present — including a never-seen-before, 114-foot-long, 45-panel painting, shipped from Tokyo exclusively for the Chicago show. The works span Murakami’s origins starting with Eastern-style painting, rooted in his traditional Nihonga artistic training, in which he earned a PhD, to Western contemporary works replete with smiling daisy paintings, bright colors and mushrooms — and Mr. Dob, the artist’s signature character.
Murakami, who has brought his playful, anime-inspired characters to fashion collaborations like Louis Vuitton and limited edition Vans, says his fascination with anime started early on. “I am part of the first generation to watch ‘Star Wars’ real time, so I’ve naturally been influenced by the series. As such, I believe the influence has seeped into my self-expression,” said Murakami, noting he would like to incorporate his flower motif into the Louis Vuitton x Supreme collaboration. “In the same vein, I think this generational influence also played a role.”
When the artist was still a student, Murakami said, his inspirations were manga artist Katsuhiro Otomo and film director Hayao Miyazaki. “Then it was Anselm Kiefer and Julian Schnabel. And then it was Jeff Koons and Haim Steinbach. And then it was Damien Hirst and Charles Ray. And then it was Soga Shōhaku and Hakuin Ekaku. And then Instagram.”
When asked about the relationship between art and fashion, Murakami deferred to ComplexCon, which he will cohost in November in Long Beach with Pharrell Williams, Off-White designer and founder Virgil Abloh, and Colette cofounder Sarah Andelman. “I’m sure you’ll be able to see the never-before-seen scene of the future of art and fashion. It’ll blow your mind,” Murakami said.
As for the MCA exhibit, “amazing” is how Marc Ecko described the retrospective. “I particularly love the opening room, pre-1993. It’s super powerful to see Murakami before he totally found his voice. Seeing Murakami, the craftsman, the technical master before a distinct motif,” said Ecko, founder, chief creative and brand officer of Complex Networks. “It showed the power in honing and working toward that. You walk through the exhibition and it’s a chronological display of mastery.”
From a fashion perspective, the cultural influence of Murakami—whose longtime collaboration with Louis Vuitton, which began in 2002 with Marc Jacobs and ended in 2015, is still considered one of the most successful art-meets-fashion endeavors of all time, is not lost on Ecko. “His ‘superflat’ work, that seeks to mash high and low—is at the philosophical center of all I do and am drawn too,” he said. “It’s bold. It’s unafraid of critics. He is also very earnest and authentic — which is also how I would describe his impact and his aesthetic.”
If Murakami is considered the king of bright colors, the queen of black and white is Janelle Monáe. Dressed in her signature colors, the Academy Award winner and singer closed the evening with a high-energy set that included her singles “Electric Lady” and “Tightrope” and a cover of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.”
The event raised more than $3 million to benefit future MCA exhibitions, performances and educational programming. “The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg” will be on view until Sept. 24.