On now until May 6th, the Vancouver Art Gallery is hosting Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg, the first exhibit of its kind on Canadian soil.i It just so happened that I was in the beautiful coastal city this week,ii and while I’d allotted 75 minutes to tour the very au courant and widely publicised show before heading to the airport, the fact that Uber hasn’t yet cracked the complacent taxi monopoly in the lower mainland meant that I ended up with just 15 minutes to run through the exhibit and snap these pictures. But that’s probably 15 minutes more than most!
For those who are blissfully unaware, very much the Damien Hirst of the Far East, Murakami is one of the very few living visual artists to successfully tap into the global “Hypebeast” culture, where memes, Supreme, Yeezy, and milky manga are king (and where profits for tastemakers flow like milk and honey).
Kanye’s connection to Murakami isn’t just a one-off relationship of convenience either. Way back in 2007, at Yeezy’s request, Murakami designed the album cover art for Kanye’s third studio album, Graduation, which featured this adorable little brown teddy bear.
For those keeping score at home, Kanye’s blessing not only helped solidify Herr Trump in 2016, but also launched Murakami into the stratosphere in 2008 when his sexual and dare I say optimistic sculpture My Lonesome Cowboy sold for $15 mn at the Sotheby’s spring auction, a price the artist has yet to best despite the rampant inflation fuelling the contemporary (and impressionist) art markets since then. Murakami is still an A-lister, but much of his commercially successful work since then has either been a result of various collaborations, such as the recent one with Virgil Abloh for Gagosian’s London Gallery,iii or of a darker and broodier mentality that simply hasn’t captured the imagination of patrons to quite the same degree as his earlier work. Speaking of his earlier work, Murakami is perhaps best known for his noughties happy flower motifs :
Of which there are infinite variations, each painstakingly painted acrylic on canvas. Even if this type of art isn’t your jam, credit has to be given to the detail and disciplineiv that runs through Murakami’s typically Japanese veins. Much like a Credor Tourbillon, it’s as exquisite as it is polarising, provoking as it is questionable. Though Murakami’s most vividly challenging work at VAG were easily his sculptures.
Leaving only one question : which leg would an octopus eat first if an octopus ate its own leg ?
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- The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg was originally shown at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art where it broke attendance records. [↩]
- A city, recall, where I’ve an eye on a little pied-a-terre once Bjarke cracks the champagne across the bow of his Vancouver House sometime in 2019. [↩]
- Gagosian is pretty much the haut de gamme in the private art gallery world. Saatchi and White Cube round out the top shelf. Don Thompson’s The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art is recommended reading if you’re interested in learning more about this uniquely perverse world. The book pretty much cured me of any deluded notion that I might become an art collector any time soon, at least from my humble and isolated abode in Alberta. High-end markets that are a lot less politically manipulated and isolated in very specific geographies are substantially more attractive to yours truly, whether it be fine furniture, fast cars, or haute horlogerie. A dancing bear here and there is more than enough of a dabble into fine art for now. [↩]
- Murakami was trained in the traditional Nihonga style of Japanese painting, which is extremely 2D and looks very much like paper cut-outs. It’s also the style that influence the likes of Matisse and Gauguin. [↩]