It's not all happiness, flowers, and octopuses at MCA.
These days, I travel mostly alone. Sometimes that leaves me longing for a travel companion to share experiences and discuss crazy art-world hypotheses. The situation probably sounds more tragic than intended. Because other times, being alone makes me feel like I have a more personal relationship with the things I encounter. Such was the case with a recent visit to Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA).
I planned a short weekend in Chicago specifically to see The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg, a retrospective of the work of Takashi Murakami. In truth, I've had a relationship with Murakami for quite some time. He's an artist who has taken me out of my way so I could bask in his fields of happy flowers. But this is the first time I've traveled to a city specifically because of a Murakami installation.
MCA's extensive exhibition didn't disappoint. The show was jam packed with galleries that were bursting at the seams, the large-scale works straining to fit on the walls. In fact, in some places the show felt cramped. I would have enjoyed a little more breathing room. However, I'm not sure what I would have asked the curators to leave out.
I loved the early works on view which looked nothing like the paintings and sculptures that are instantly recognizable as Murakami. And yet, they helped me understand how his art ended up where it is. And the octopuses that were created specifically for the show (I especially loved the graphics that covered the museum facade and walls to promote the show) stayed true to the trick that makes Murakami's work so intriguing and moving. Because for all the cuteness, brightness, and polish that these octopuses (and Murakami's other work) deliver, there's always something just a little too perfect, a little too happy. The result are works whose intent is somehow unsettling and sinister. It's a feeling I share almost on a daily basis.
That leads me back to the place where this post started: traveling alone. I'm all the more attracted to the art of Murakami because of my travel habits. So often when I encounter art, I'm traveling to interesting, exciting, delightful places that inspire happiness. And yet, I have a sneaking suspicion that all this happiness is a facade. That there is something (or someone) missing. Maybe that missing element makes Murakami's clever deceptions all the more invasive.
Creative director and art nerd contemplating travel, books, theater, and art.