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Mariko Mori at the Gallery Koyanagi

by Monty DiPietro

A one-time teen model turned cyberdiva cum wannabe guru, she is nothing less than Japan's most celebrated artistic export, represented by the finest galleries in New York and Paris. She does provocative performances and ambitious installations in solo shows at prestigious institutions like the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Centre Georges Pompidou, and collectors vie for her editioned photographic works, videos, and objet. She is interviewed by the best critics and splashed across the covers of the biggest magazines, and on one of many fan websites, is referred to as "Her Majesty." She sings, she dances -- she is a wonderful little item called Mariko Mori, and the world is in love with her.

Actually, the Western world is in love with her -- although she does something like a dozen shows annually, Mori exhibits in Japan only about once a year, if that often. This is due a number of reasons -- public museums here are generally conservative, most galleries are too small for installations, and contemporary art collectors are few and far between. None of this seems to bother New York-based Mori, who once told an interviewer, "Japan is a unified society which does not allow for individualism…I was compelled to escape as soon as possible."

Mariko Mori was born in Tokyo in 1967, into one of the richest families in the world. After flirting with a career in modeling, she shipped off to London to attend the Chelsea College of Art before flexing Stateside to the Independent Study Program of the Whitney Museum. She has lived and worked in New York since, one of a growing circle of Japanese artists who call that city home.

Those the globetrotting art sensation left behind will be happy to hear that Mori is back in Japan with a new show at the Gallery Koyanagi, on Tokyo's Ginza strip. "Miracle" features an installation in salt and crystal; a limited edition lithograph; and eight photographic works derived from Mori's full-scale spiritual project "Dream Temple," which premiered in Milan in 1999. "Dream Temple" is a walk-in piece based on the ancient Buddhist Yumedono temple in Horyuij. Inside are three-dimensional videos with imagery based on human fetuses. The computer generated pictures in this show are developments of sketchbook studies Mori did for the Dream Temple video.

Spherical forms dominate in the pictures, these being a recurring theme in Mori's work of late. What might be bubbles play on a soft white background in one of the pictures, what look like pachinko balls roll against a black background in another. There are clouds and flashes of light here, intersecting planes of color, constellations. The individual picture's titles are new age in nature ("Galaxy," "Energy," "Cosmic") and the works are meant to be viewed in sequence, and to represent ever-deeper levels of awareness, toward what the artist calls "cosmic consciousness and connectedness."

"I wanted to create something," says Mori, "that transcended time and space."

The visual manifestation of Mori's spiritual meanderings are really not so different from the sort of spacey stuff hippies once air brushed on the sides of camper vans. As with most everything Mori, here the form is as important as the content -- the pictures are mounted between circular sheets of dichroic glass, an iridescent medium that gleams and shimmers in hues from magenta to lemon yellow by way of orange. And as with everything Mori, the execution is exact and the finished products refined -- these pictures look just great. But as with everything Mori, a nagging question is whether those beautiful forms might not actually be carrying the work.

However one approaches that thorny question, it is clear that there is no immediate end in sight to the blossoming of Mariko Mori, who is perfectly positioned to help satisfy the growing Western appetite for neatly-packaged Japanese exoticism. She is the meditative one, filed under "Zen," who complements compatriots Nobuyoshi Araki (S&M); and Takashi Murakami (Manga) in a perfect panorama of all that most Westerners know about Japanese culture.

And who could fault these artists for giving the West what it wants?


Notes: Mariko Mori's "Miracle" is at the Gallery Koyanagi (3561-1896) until June 30, 2001. Pictured is "Bubble" (2001), color photograph in diacroic glass, by Mariko Mori
Mariko and Monty photo by Kara Besher.
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