MCA Chicago makes the most of Murakami merch mania

The demand for Murakami merchandise at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago shows no signs of letting up. With just a few weeks left before the travelling retrospective Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg closes on 24 September, the museum’s shop continues to roll out new items, including limited edition prints that sell out as soon as they are made available. “It’s still very much jamming in the store,” says Mark Millmore, the MCA’s director of retail. He adds that museum staff has had to “remain very nimble” to respond to the sustained interest in the artist. “I’ve never had to ask so much from the retail department, as well as everyone else in the building, including the social media team.”

The exhibition, organised by the MCA’s chief curator Michael Darling, shows the wide range of Murakami’s work, from his “Superflat” pop paintings and sculptures that draw on the cartoonish world of anime, to his more recent paintings that invoke Buddhist legends or the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Similarly, the museum store has worked closely with the artist to offer a large assortment of art objects for Murakami’s fans, be they students or serious collectors, from $3 sticker sets to silkscreens starting at $6,000. The latter are specially shipped over from Japan and have never before been available in the US. And the catalogue for the show has already gone into a second printing.

The appetite for all this material has meant the need for more resources, including staff to help process the added inventory and professional art handlers to manage the editioned work. Even the museum’s unused spaces have been commandeered to the cause. “Luckily, the theatre is dark, because we needed somewhere to put all of these prints,” Millmore says.

Perhaps most surprising is the number of repeat customers, not just those who return to the store to see the new releases every week or two, but visitors “who keep coming back to see the show,” Millmore says.

So just how much of a windfall will this Murakami mania reap for the museum? Millmore says that he’ll know the exact receipt numbers within an hour of the show’s closing, but that he estimates it is “definitely more than $1m so far”. It is even set to surpass the sales success of the MCA’s last major blockbuster, David Bowie Is, which broke a record for the museum with 189,000 items sold including 7,000 exhibition catalogues, 14,000 t-shirts and 2,100 limited edition prints. Murakami will “beat Bowie by more than 40%,” Millmore says.

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