The Octopus Eats its Own Leg

Feb 3 – May 6, 2018



Murakami’s signature character, Mr. DOB was born in 1993, intentionally designed as a graphic icon to that has been swiftly developed into a multidimensional and multifunctional figure that Murakami has used in all facets of his production. In Klein’s Pot, the artist mapped advanced scientific theories onto the face of Mr. DOB, and named the series of paintings after a mathematical theory where one is unable to distinguish between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ surfaces. DOB became an endless compositional machine that continues to fuel the artist’s painterly imagination to this day.

The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg

Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg is the first major retrospective of Takashi Murakami’s paintings to be shown in Canada. Spanning three decades of the artist’s career—from his monumental paintings of the 1980s to new, never-before-seen works—this critical survey reveals the consistent themes and profound engagement with history that have guided the artist’s practice. More than fifty paintings and sculptures in the exhibition highlight a dedication to craftsmanship and uninhibited imagination mining a diverse field of conceptual and cultural references extending from folklore to art history and popular culture.

The exhibition takes its title “The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg” from an ancient Japanese parable, tako ga jibun no ashi wo kurau. It refers to a situation in which one survives for the time being by feeding on or sacrificing oneself. The octopus eats its own leg to survive, but does so knowing the tentacle will regenerate. The phrase symbolises the cyclical nature of Murakami’s practice and the creative output of the Kaikai KiKi studio. Murakami is the octopus: he consumes history, culture and even his own oeuvre and fame to persevere as an artist.

The Art




Arhat Cycle

Takashi Murakami, Kansei Gold, 2008 (detail), acrylic and gold leaf on canvas, Private Collection, © 2008 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved, Photo: Joshua White/JWPictures.com, Courtesy of the Artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo


Murakami’s early paintings in the 1980s synthesize traditional Japanese painting techniques with contemporary subject matter. The artist trained and received his PhD in the Nihonga-style of Japanese painting, which uses mineral pigments for vivid colors and emphasizes meticulous craftsmanship. His early works show the influence of his training, melding traditional materials—such as gold and silver mineral pigments—with present-day subject matter, including the dangers of nuclear power and global consumerism.

Takashi Murakami, Magic Ball II, 1999 (detail), acrylic on canvas, Collection of Julie and Larry Bernstein, © 1999 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved, Photo: Nathan Keay


Murakami’s negotiation of traditional and contemporary aesthetics in both Japanese and American culture moved into new territory in the late 1990s with the development of his distinctive “Superflat” concept. Both a style and an ethos, Superflat addressed the cultural attributes of post-World War II Japan, in particular the popular image of Japan as a producer of saccharine consumer products such as Hello Kitty. Within a Superflat world, the otaku—the obsessive manga, anime and tech geek—becomes the driver of contemporary culture. These theories significantly influenced Murakami’s output from this period, which employed highly refined classical Japanese painting techniques to depict a super-charged mix of Pop, anime and otaku content within a flattened representational picture-plane.

Takashi Murakami, 727, 1996 (detail), acrylic on canvas mounted on board, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift of David Teiger, 2003, 251.2003.a-c, © 1996 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved, Photo: Tom Powell Imaging


This distinctive style has yielded some of Murakami’s most popular and recognizable forms, including Mr. DOB, a cartoon-like mouse character that serves as part ambassador and part self-portrait. Mr. DOB has paved the way for other characters throughout the artist’s career, as its palette of signature motifs—anime eyes, jagged teeth, rounded letterforms—mutated into various forms. Demonstrating the fluidity of his Superflat concept, these figures became visual skins that spread over myriad surfaces, from paintings and wallpaper to plush toys and luxury bags. Murakami’s artworks have led to numerous collaborations, including Louis Vuitton and Kanye West. He considers these partnerships “disruptions” that defy the expectations of an art world system that prizes exclusivity and elitism.

Takashi Murakami, 100 Arhats, 2013, acrylic, gold and platinum leaf on canvas mounted on board, Marciano Art Foundation, Los Angeles, © 2013 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved, Photo: Joshua White/JWPictures.com, Courtesy of the Artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo

Arhat Cycle

After finding himself at the centre of luxury and celebrity cultures, Murakami began to depart from the commercial aesthetic that garnered him popular acclaim. Deeply affected by the massive earthquake and tsunami in Fukushima, Japan in 2011 that killed more than 15,000 people, the artist returned to his training in traditional painting to find an appropriate response. He began researching Buddhist iconography and discovered the rich history of Buddhist monks (Arhats) who roamed the land in an attempt to console and enlighten others. This fuelled an ongoing body of paintings depicting an eccentric and highly individualized group of Arhats, incorporating folklore and Buddhist imagery into a decidedly contemporary reinterpretation.

The Artist

Takashi Murakami was born in 1962 in Tokyo, Japan. He studied at Tokyo University of the Arts, Japan, (formerly, Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music), where he received his BFA in 1986, his MFA in 1988, and his Ph.D. in 1993. He founded the Hiropon Factory in Tokyo in 1996, which later evolved into Kaikai Kiki, an art production and art management corporation. In addition to the production and marketing of Murakami’s art and related work, Kaikai Kiki functions as a supportive environment for the fostering of emerging artists.

Murakami’s works have been exhibited in many solo and group exhibitions. Recent major museum exhibitions include Summon monsters? Open the door? Heal? Or die?, Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (2001); Takashi Murakami: Made in Japan, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2001); Kaikai Kiki: Takashi Murakami, Foundation Cartier pour l‘art contemporain, Paris (2002; travelled to Serpentine Gallery, London); ©MURAKAMI, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2007; travelled to Brooklyn Museum, New York; Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt; and Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao through 2009); Takashi Murakami Versailles, Château de Versailles, France (2010); Murakami: Ego, Qatar Museums Authority, Qatar (2012); Arhat Cycle, Palazzo Reale, Milan (2014); Murakami: The 500 Arhats, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2015); Murakami by Murakami, Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo, Norway (2017); and Takashi Murakami: Under the Radiation Falls, Garage Museum of Contemporary, Moscow, Russia (2017).

Takashi Murakami currently lives and works in Tokyo and New York City.
Takashi Murakami, Photo: Maria Ponce Berre, © MCA Chicago




Watch Videos

In his New York City studio, Takashi Murakami discusses his three-decades-long practice in which he blends traditional and modern art techniques to create enormous paintings with a visual power unmatched in contemporary art.
The Murakami Process

Plan Your Visit

Murakami Special Hours

Final Week Open Late
April 27
April 30-May 6

Special Appearance by Taco 7
Fri May 4 and Sat May 5

Gallery Hours
Open Daily 10am-5pm
Tuesday until 9pm

Sundays FREE for children 12 & under when
accompanied by an adult

Vancouver Art Gallery

750 Hornby Street
Vancouver, BC V6Z 2H7

Infoline: 604.662.4719
Membership: 604.662.4711

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Gallery Tours

Thursday, Saturdays & Sundays


Chinese Language Tours

Saturdays & Sundays


Weekly Family Programs

Sundays from 12pm-4pm


Facebook Messenger Codes

 Look for Facebook Messenger Codes
throughout the exhibition to discover more
about the artworks on display.
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Please Note:
Backpacks, food, beverages, large bags and umbrellas are not permitted beyond the lobby and must be checked at the coat check desk. Coat check services are free and located across the admissions desk in the lobby.

At the Gallery


Murakami’s Birthday Bash

THANK YOU for a fantastic evening!

Over 600 friends and supporters joined us on Friday, February 2 to celebrate Murakami’s Birthday Bash! We extend our sincere appreciation to the generous event partners, sponsors, volunteers and guests who contributed to making this evening so spectacular. All funds raised during this event support the Gallery’s exhibitions and education and public programs.

Event Supporter
Daomei Wang

VIP Table Hosts
Rosy Shang and Cathy Zuo

Murakami’s Birthday Bash Committee



We look forward to seeing everyone again soon!

Proceeds from this event support the Vancouver Art Gallery’s exhibitions and education and public programs.




Rosy Shang and Daomei Wang

Irene Barata | Joy Chao | Ding Chen | Jessica Chen | Liang Fung | Yvonne Gagnon | Lara Honrado | Kelsey Klassen | Paula Krawus | Amanda Liang | Delia Ma | Angela Pan | Eliza Pan | Kim Pickett | Colby Richardson | Quinten Richardson | Christopher Rowntree | Taslim Samji | Karyna Schultz | Kamal Sharma | Paul Simons | Don Stuart | Ken Takagi | Lara Tomaszewska | Ava Vorwaller | Lulu Wang | Van Yuan


JAN 31
WED 7pm
Artist Lecture: Takashi Murakami

This lecture will examine renowned artist Takashi Murakami’s ongoing research-based practice by reflecting on his 30 years of art making, including his work with collaborators as diverse as Louis Vuitton and Kanye West.

Please note: This lecture will be translated from Japanese to English.

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FRI 5:30pm | 8:30pm
Murakami’s Birthday Bash & After Party
Limited tickets remain

Join us for a special evening to celebrate Takashi Murakami’s birthday and the opening of his first retrospective exhibition in Canada, Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg at the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Commodore Ballroom.

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FEB 3 & 4
SAT & SUN 9-10am
Members Mornings

Members enjoy exclusive early access to the exhibition Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg on the opening weekend.

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FEB 3 & 4
SAT & SUN 10am-9pm
Extended Hours

Due to popular demand, Gallery hours have been extended during the opening weekend of Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg. Purchase advance tickets and save time!


SUN 12-4pm
Weekly Family Programs

Explore the influence of contemporary pop culture, such as Tokyo’s Neo Pop, Critical Pop, manga, kawaii and his own concept of Superflat, as well as both digital and factory production methods in Takashi Murakami’s artwork. Experiment with printmaking, digital design, painting and sculpture at hands-on workshops, and discover the role of illustration in contemporary Japanese culture, with feature workshops by Vancouver-based illustrators and comic book creators.

FREE for children 12 & under when accompanied by an adult.


MARCH 19–23
12-4pm Daily, Gallery

Join us this Spring Break as we explore the Gallery’s current exhibition Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg through a variety of in-gallery family activities led by our Art Agents. Then, join us in the Making Place and participate in guided hands-on making activities.

FREE for children 12 & under when accompanied by an adult. Run on a drop-in basis. Bookings are required for groups.