06 FEB 2018: Visitors to Vancouver in the next few months will have more than the springy west coast weather to lift their spirits. There's a blockbuster art show in town, and it's a dazzler. The outside of Vancouver Art Galley, a landmark building in one of the city's busiest areas - the business/retail/hotel area around Georgia Street, aka Highway 99 to Whistler - has been transformed into an exuberant public art installation that makes it impossible to resist seeing what's happening inside.

The museum, decked out as colourful octopus with bright blue tentacles and a blue skull/dome, is exhibiting "The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg," the first-ever Takashi Murakami retrospective to come to Canada. The exhibit drew record crowds at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago before it opened this weekend in Vancouver, the only Canadian stop on its North American tour. It's an absolute must-see for visitors and Vancouverites alike, hitting town as a welcome jolt of spring after a grey and rainy winter.

The title is typically quirky Murakami, inspired by an old Japanese saying that can be interpreted anywhere from an affirmation of regeneration to a tribute to survival. In a pinch, an octopus in distress can chew off its own tentacle, which will sometimes grow back and sometimes not. Regardless, the octopus is driven to survive.

Metaphorically, it could speak to Murakami's success, which has been built on the constant absorption and remaking of cultural references both high and low, Japanese and Western.

The more than 55 pieces on display give viewers a stunning look back at his restless sources of inspiration and regeneration over the years, from his early work in Nihonga, a traditional Japanese painting technique in which he earned a PhD, through anime (animation), manga (comic books) and sci-fi. There are his familiar smiley flowers and more in the style he calls "superflat," and a new group of paintings that are being shown for the first time, including the title piece, "The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg," a monumental 35-panel, 100+ ft. masterwork.

Murakami, an internationally-known Japanese artist who blazed into pop culture fame through successful commercial collaborations with Louis Vuitton, Kanye West and Vans, was the toast of the town when he visited to launch the show's three-month run. He showed up with signature style, colourful and outrageous, with his long hair trailing down from an octopus-tentacled hat that sat on his head like a plush cartoon crown. He wore a sort of Pixar-meets-Pucci tentacle-printed blue blazer, shiny cropped pants, turquoise pull-up socks and a pair of coveted Virgil Abloh x Nike Air Jordan 1 sneakers: perfect for a genre-crossing, social-media-trending visionary revered by both the international art crowd and the hip-hop aristocracy.

On a rainy February day, he was a dazzling apparition of spring.

In honour of Murakami's visit, his show and his 56th birthday that day, Mayor Gregor Robertson declared February 1, 2018 "Takashi Murakami Day" in Vancouver. The next day, VAG shut down to host an official launch event and $1000 a plate birthday dinner complete with DJ and after-party. Down the road at the Shangri-La Hotel, Market by Jean-Georges (the first Jean-Georges Vongerichten restaurant in Canada), jumped on the bandwagon with a five-course Murakami-inspired tasting menu running through February. Grilled octopus? Obviously.

The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg is at Vancouver Art Gallery from Feb. 3 to May 6.


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