After showstopper retrospectives at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and at Chateau de Versailles, the final chapter of Takashi Murakami’s international trilogy of exhibitions is his biggest (it features a 6m high inflatable sculpture of himself) and best (this is the first show that brings together several important series in their entirely for the first time) yet. In fact, Murakami – Ego presented by Qatar Museums Authority (QMA) at the Al Riwaq exhibition space next to the Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, is conceived as a work of art in itself. It is, in the superstar Japanese artist’s own words, “a dialogue with one’s own ego”. Presented alongside an exhibition of influential Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang at Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, Qatar is the current must-visit on the nomadic art world calendar.

Beginning with the aforementioned Self Portrait Balloon (2012), Murakami – Ego features 70 of Murakami’s signature works – he is known for his manga-style images and sculptures that echo the precision of traditional Japanese art but which are created with modern techniques – from 1997 to the present. 16 works were specially commissioned for Qatar including his largest painted work to date, the 100m Arhat Painting (2012) that stretches around three sides of the main gallery space.

Filled with his famous smiling flowers and the Murakami-created characters such as Kaikai and Kiki, the show is described as “Murakami City” by its curator Massimiliano Gioni. “Takashi has conceived of this show as an urban experience, a walk into a gigantic artificial landscape, a science fiction environment,” explains Gioni. “For its scale and ambition it is an absolutely unique exhibition.”

More than just a rare opportunity to step inside the artist’s mind, the Murakami show is stellar in its further reaching concept. For the Qatar Museums Authority Chairperson Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, the show is about education (for the local community who would otherwise have to travel to discover Murakami’s work) and balance (Qatar is home to a powerful cultural programme that ranges from the traditional artefacts in the Museum of Islamic Art to subtle modern shows such as the recent Louise Bourgeois retrospective).

Indeed, it is Sheikha Al Mayassa’s vision that has seen QMA sponsor some of the world’s most important art events (the forthcoming Damien Hirst retrospective at The Tate, London, is underwritten by QMA) not with the aim of increasing tourism but instead to be able to bring these important artists to Qatar. Among other projects, QMA helped finance the Murakami retrospective at Versailles and the Prada Foundation’s critically acclaimed exhibition at Palazzo Ca' Corner della Regina during the Venice Biennale 2011.

Sheikha Al Mayassa explains her philosophy with her explanation of why she brought Murakami – Ego to Qatar: “The exhibition continues to advance QMA’s mission to encourage global cultural dialogue and exchange, as well as celebrates forty years of diplomatic relations between Qatar and Japan.”

Murakami – Ego
February 9 – June 24, 2012


Upon entering Al Riwaq, visitors immediately encounter the artist in the form of the massive Self-Portrait Balloon (2012), a 6-meter high inflatable sculpture. In a striking difference from his signature anime-inspired style, Murakami depicts himself realistically, dressed in everyday clothes with the posture of a giant Buddha sculpture, extending his hand outwards in a gesture of greeting.

For the exhibition, Murakami realized his largest painted work to date. Arhat Painting (working title, 2012), stretches 100 meters, wrapping around three sides of the main gallery space, and is divided into four 25-meter sections devoted to wind, forest, fire and mountain. Conceived as a response to the recent natural disasters in Japan, the work draws on traditional historical painting to create a contemporary monument to the power of nature in Japanese life. Inspired by paintings produced by Japanese monks over 600 years ago in response to earthquakes, floods and political turmoil of the period, the work is a stylistic departure for the artist.

"With the recent disasters, I was able to experience firsthand the way that such catastrophes have served as the origin point for the spread of Japanese religion and culture. In the sense that Japan's artistic tradition developed in the same way, this new piece is for me a kind of Guernica."

The massive circus tent that serves as a theater for Murakami’s recent animated films was specially created for the exhibition. Covered with the artist’s signature Eye pattern, the tent epitomizes how Murakami uses mass entertainment to convey serious content. A number of the artist’s inflatable sculptures also are on view, including the actual Kaikai Kiki balloons featured in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.

The exhibition features the entire cast of characters from Murakami’s universe—like Mr. DOB, Kaikai and Kiki, and Oval Buddha—whose distinct personalities evolve over disparate works from cute to terrifying. Also on view are complete series like Pom & Me, a mock-heroic, manga-style depiction of the artist and his real-life dog produced in gold, platinum, bronze and carbon fiber. Murakami’s signature smiling flowers are also represented in paintings, sculptures and curtains that drape the entrance to the exhibition.

In his series of Pom & Me sculptures, Murakami appears with his dog as an oversized collectible action hero. Significantly, he is depicted not as an adult but a childlike embodiment of the type of manga culture which formed his artistic approach. These works seem to suggest that if the viewers want to understand Murakami the individual, then they must look at the cultural context around him and the diverse visual references which shaped his own aesthetic.