When Art Becomes the Heart of Urban Life – Mori Art Museum

Located on the 53rd floor of the illustrious Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, the Mori Art Museum exhibits some of the world's most internationally acclaimed artists
LOUISE BOURGEOIS, SPIDER SCULPTURE SITS OUTSIDE THE MORI MUSEUM
Located on the 53rd floor of the illustrious Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, the Mori Art Museum exhibits some of the world’s most internationally acclaimed artists
Takashi Murakami, “The 500 Arhats”, installation view. Mori Art Museum, 2015. Photo credit: Mori Museum & Magic Pony. Artwork ©Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved
Takayama Akira, The City and Its Tower, 2016. 6-channel video installation. Courtesy: MISA SHIN GALLERY, Tokyo . Installation view: “Roppongi Crossing 2016: My Body, Your Voice,” Mori Art Museum, 2016. Photo: Nagare Satoshi
Installation view of AI Weiwei: According to What? at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, 2013. Left to right: Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 1995/2009; Moon Chest, 2008; New York Photographs, 1983-1993.
Roy Lichtenstein (American, 1923–1997), Five Brushstrokes, designed 1983–1984, fabricated 2012. Robert L. and Marjorie J. Mann Fund, Partial Gift of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, 2013.443A-E.4 © Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.
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Mori Art Museum started its art collection in 2005 with a focus on Japan and Asia-Pacific contemporary art. The collection currently comprises 400 works by Le Corbusier, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Takashi Murakami, amongst others. With the motto of “Art + Life”, the museum opts for a lively evolving series of theme-based exhibitions to showcase the collection instead of a permanent gallery presentation.


TEXT: Ariane Van de Ven
IMAGES: Courtesy of Mori Art Museum

During a recent trip to Tokyo, I had the pleasure of meeting with Mami Kataoka, chief curator at the Mori Art Museum, Kayo Machino from Public Relations, and Keisuke Ozawa, one of the curators of Roppongi Crossings 2016, the museum’s latest exhibition. I spent an entire day discovering the incredible story of the Mori Art Museum with them, looking at its history, its current exhibition and programming, as well as its vision for the future.

LOUISE BOURGEOIS, SPIDER SCULPTURE SITS OUTSIDE THE MORI MUSEUM
LOUISE BOURGEOIS, SPIDER SCULPTURE SITS OUTSIDE THE MORI MUSEUM

The Mori Art Museum was founded in 2003 by Mr Mori Minoru, an urban development visionary with a passion for contemporary art. He has always been animated by a desire to harness his creative power to enrich people’s lives. He understood early on that in order to achieve this, the Mori Building Co had to go beyond just building iconic real estate projects. It had to become part of culture and even a maker of culture. Mori pioneered the concept of Art and Life, which he started in the 70s with his La Foret department store, which became the beacon for contemporary Japanese style and a symbol of Harajuku youth culture. La Foret was much more than just a commercial outlet, it established itself as a destination where people could experience alternative lifestyles and tastes, and it was Mr Mori’s first foray into mixing real estate with art. Indeed, the sixth floor houses an innovative gallery space, which has hosted exhibitions devoted to the likes of Czech animator Jan Švankmajer and US filmmaker David Lynch, as well as occasional concerts, screenings and events.

The museum took more than 20 years to be realised and was driven by Mr Mori’s belief that a neighbourhood could be regenerated thanks to art. He set his sight on Roppongi, an area of Tokyo known for its underground vibe, its clubs and bars, mostly run by yakuza. He was convinced that Roppongi deserved better and that it could be re-invented as a neighbourhood where art was at the centre, promoting a rich and vibrant contemporary lifestyle. He built it around his concept of a ‘vertical garden city’ with a contemporary art museum at the heart of the project. He travelled the world to research the best corporate art centres to refine his vision. Unlike most corporate museums, the Mori Museum was not created to showcase the owner’s collection, but instead to be a destination for people in the community where they could experience some of the best contemporary artists.

Located on the 53rd floor of the illustrious Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, the Mori Art Museum exhibits some of the world's most internationally acclaimed artists
Located on the 53rd floor of the illustrious Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, the Mori Art Museum exhibits some of the world’s most internationally acclaimed artists

I never got the chance to meet Mr Mori, but from my conversations with the museum’s staff it became apparent that the museum was his most important project and his legacy to Tokyo. He has surrounded himself with the best advisors, seeking the advice of Glenn Lowry, Nicholas Serota and enlisting the expertise of David Elliott, who became Japan’s first foreign museum director when he was made the museum’s director.

It opened in 2003, with the exhibition: Happiness: A Survival Guide for Art and Life, which set the tone for the museum’s mission: leveraging the power of art and creative talents to inspire people to think differently, be more open and to help generate a feeling of community. This spirit of openness is reflected in the museum’s website, which is completely bilingual, as are the exhibition texts and labels, and most of the staff. The Mori Art Museum is Tokyo’s first truly international contemporary art centre, showcasing the work of iconic Japanese artists, such as Yayoi Kusama (2004) and Hiroshi Sugimoto (2005-2006), alongside work by lesser-known emerging artists at its triennial exhibition of Japanese contemporary art, Roppongi Crossings. In addition, the museum has started MAM Projects that provide a platform for promising young artists to exhibit their work alongside the bigger museum shows.

In 2005, the Mori Art Museum started its own collection, which focused on contemporary artists from the Asia-Pacific region. This was mostly acquired from newly commissioned and exhibited works. The collection grew with works acquired by the Mori Building Co and other affiliates, including Le Corbusier, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Takashi Murakami, amongst others. Despite this, the Mori Art Museum has never set up a permanent collection gallery. Instead, it opted to curate an exhibition of selected works. Another exhibition featured works from the UBS Art Collection (2009) and the Thyssen-Bornemisza contemporary collection (2009).

Takashi Murakami, “The 500 Arhats", installation view. Mori Art Museum, 2015. Photo credit: Mori Museum & Magic Pony. Artwork ©Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved
Takashi Murakami, “The 500 Arhats”, installation view. Mori Art Museum, 2015. Photo credit: Mori Museum & Magic Pony. Artwork ©Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved

Since 2006, the museum has been under the directorship of Nanjo Fumio, a much revered art critic and curator. Its spirit of collaboration has remained to this day, with exhibitions that aim at engaging a diverse audience with contemporary art in a personal and relevant way. The museum’s programme aims to strike a balance between big blockbuster shows and more niche ones.

One of the museum’s most compelling qualities is its position at the heart of urban life and concerns. It showcases incredibly well the power of art to unite, as well as to provoke. It includes many exhibitions that showcase the work of sometimes overlooked regions, such as the African Remix: Contemporary art of a continent (2006), Chalo! India: A new era of Indian Art (2009) and Arab Express: the latest Art from the Arab world (2012), and encourages visitors to look beyond Japan.

The latest edition of Roppongi Crossings has brought highly important topics to the forefront for Japanese people, especially Tokyoites and Roppongi Hills locals. For example, Takayama Akira’s work, The City and its towers, which engages viewers and makes them think about the human costs of such big productions.

Takayama Akira, The City and Its Tower, 2016. 6-channel video installation. Courtesy: MISA SHIN GALLERY, Tokyo . Installation view: “Roppongi Crossing 2016: My Body, Your Voice,” Mori Art Museum, 2016. Photo: Nagare Satoshi
Takayama Akira, The City and Its Tower, 2016. 6-channel video installation. Courtesy: MISA SHIN GALLERY, Tokyo . Installation view: “Roppongi Crossing 2016: My Body, Your Voice,” Mori Art Museum, 2016. Photo: Nagare Satoshi

Another artist, Matsukawa Tomona, has brought to life the living conditions of female workers of Roppongi Hills and the harsh reality that some of these women experience. These artists are, according to Keisuke Ozawa, representative of the new generation of Japanese artists that place research at the heart of their practice. This makes Roppongi Crossings 2016 “a show that massages your brain”, he told me. After the 3.11 disaster (the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami), the museum only closed for a day and continued its exhibition programme as planned. This was partly because of the responsibility that the museum felt as a community hub, and showed it was living up to the museum’s belief that Art is an essential part of Life.

Installation view of AI Weiwei: According to What? at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, 2013. Left to right: Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 1995/2009; Moon Chest, 2008; New York Photographs, 1983-1993.
Installation view of AI Weiwei: According to What? at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, 2013. Left to right: Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 1995/2009; Moon Chest, 2008; New York Photographs, 1983-1993.

The Mori Art Museum has constantly been reaching out to external experts to share its point of view on what should be the place of the museum in contemporary life. It has initiated a series of symposiums and launched a series of talks, where artists and other experts expressed themselves around a specific subject. It also organises student and artist workshops to discuss the social issues that are presented in their exhibitions. For me, the Mori Art Museum is a fantastic example of how to showcase the importance of art. The museum does not just elevate the mind and expose people to new ideas, it genuinely makes a whole community grow stronger. As one of the museum’s team members told me, fashionable places to shop and eat come and go, but art is here to stay.

Mr Mori has given the city of Tokyo many iconic buildings, such as La Foret and Omotesando Hills, but the one that has achieved the most impact on the life and soul of Tokyoites is certainly Roppongi Hills, thanks to the Mori Art Museum. In today’s turbulent times, the museum gives people the opportunity to go to a place where they can go to reflect. It also encourages people to support each other by enabling them to explore alternative realities dreamed up by artists. The Mori Building Co builds communities and nurtures them with art, and the Mori Art Museum is testament to the fact that art provides inspiration for life.

Roy Lichtenstein (American, 1923–1997), Five Brushstrokes, designed 1983–1984, fabricated 2012 Robert L. and Marjorie J. Mann Fund, Partial Gift of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, 2013.443A-E.4 © Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.
Roy Lichtenstein (American, 1923–1997), Five Brushstrokes, designed 1983–1984, fabricated 2012. Robert L. and Marjorie J. Mann Fund, Partial Gift of the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, 2013.443A-E.4 © Roy Lichtenstein Foundation.

 

Roppongi Crossing 2016 : My Body, Your Voice
March 26, 2016 – Sunday, July 10, 2016
Mori Art Museum (53F, Roppongi Hills Mori Tower)

Curators: 
Araki Natsumi (Curator, Mori Art Museum)
Kim Sunjung (Director, Art Sonje Center; Director, Samuso)
Ozawa Keisuke (Curator, Arts Initiative Tokyo [AIT])
Wu Dar-Kuen (Director of Taipei Artist Village)

 


Ariane van de Ven is a trends expert who helps companies understand and connect with contemporary culture. Ariane scouts creative talents, projects and places around the world, to inspire Fortune 500 companies from various sectors including: technology, automobile, banking, luxury, fashion, FMCG and NGOs. She is based in Barcelona and Paris.

 
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