Roppongi is nowadays one of the coolest quarters in Tokyo, famous for its luxury restaurants and shops, but also for the raffish upper-class clubs for foreigners, most of all Westerns. But there is also another reason that makes Roppongi one of the most interesting places to visit in Tokyo, the so-called “artistic triangle”. Three of the most important museums of the city are located in this quarter: the Mori Art Museum of Contemporary Art, The Suntory Museum of Art and the National Center of Art of Tokyo.
The Mori Art Museum is situated in Roppongi Hills - a huge compound with shops and offices – just in the tower that dominated the area with its 238 meters. This year, coinciding with his 10th anniversary, the Mori Art Museum hosts - from the 1st of May until the 1st of September - a special exhibition titled All you need is Love: from Chagall to Kusama and Hatsune Miku. This expo focuses on the most fundamental human desire that has continued to provide all manner of inspiration to artists regardless of genre in all times and places: “love.”
From romantic love to familial love and love for humanity, life-giving love is highly complex, arousing feelings such as attachment, jealousy, animosity, resentment, and hostility in us that appear at odds with its peaceful, affirmative image. In addition, today, with the development of new technologies such as the Internet, love is becoming increasingly diverse, as witnessed by the emergence of phenomena such as virtual love and new social connections between individuals. Divided into five sections titled What Is Love? A Couple in Love, Love in Losing, Family and Love, and Love Beyond, this exhibition explores love in all its complexity and variety through around 200 artworks representative of different regions and time periods, including both masterpieces from art history and ambitious new works.
The first piece in the show is appropriately dichotomous and hints at what is to come. Damien Hirst’s large pink heart-shaped canvas embedded with colourful butterflies seems innocent at first, until you grasp that it’s a classic Hirst’s statement on life and death: that those butterflies died for art. Later on, the sculpture of the artist Jeff Koons, Sarcred Heart is an ironical reflection on the commercial aspects of love. A Saint Valentine’s present in huge scale - a fake chocolate heart in a gold paper - fill the room with a sarcastic vision of romanticism, the bittersweet side of love in the capitalistic era. In the same room, the Love sculpture of Robert Indiana reminds us that love was also a symbolic theme of Pop Art, while Nishiyama Minako, showing a reproduction of a room of a Japanese “love hotel”, critics the omnipresent commerce of sex in Japanese society.
Another aspect deeply explored by some of the artists present in the show is love in its sad side. Love is a complex beast and artists are often influenced by its darker face. The violence in a relationship, showed in the pictures of Nan Goldin; the war as a background of a marriage, in the videos of Gohar Dashti; the failure of a father’s love in a family, in the images of Richard Billingham or the male chauvinism showed ironically in the controversial videos of Adel Abidin. Not to mention the artworks about love-suicide, heartbreak, narcissism and the death of a loved one.
Then, family love. Represented in the genealogical tree of Frida Khalo, or in the family portraits of John Constable. The funny vision of a Japanese family in the work of Asada Masashi or the surrealist paintings of Chinese families by Zhang Xiaogang. The affection between very different people, the kind of love that goes beyond race, country, religion and any sort of imposed limits is shown in the pictures of Ishikawa Mao, the Japanese Photographer that spent his life portraying the love between black servicemen and Japanese girls in Okinawa.
Another symbol of love present in the exhibition is the display of affection: kisses, embraces, caresses and, of course, sex are shown in the works of Constantin Brancusi, Marc Chagall, Auguste Rodin, Giorgio De Chirico, Salvador Dalì, Tracy Emin, Araki Nobuyoshi and in the ancient erotic paintings of Kitagawa Utamaro. Yayoi Kusama’s artwork Love is calling closes the expo. A hypnotic masterpiece in which the spectator can step into: a dark, mirrored-room with colourful neon lights illuminating the space through tongue-like shape installations. The artist’s voice in the background recites a love poem spoken in Japanese. The experience is a sort of catharsis and the viewer has the impression of walking through the unknowable, unpredictable essence of love.
In an exhibition such as this, which explores an emotion as universal as love, it is inevitable that each person will bring to the show his or her own encounters with that four-letter word. The subjectivity in viewing an artwork is therefore multiplied accordingly. Whether you have been struck by cupid’s arrow or know the stabbing pain of a broken heart or the loss of a loved one, that experience will colour how you approach the work in this show.
Maybe there is also the possibility that nobody will ever know what is the real meaning of love, maybe this exhibition is just a way of establishing new questions without answers. Maybe, we just know that, as the title said, “All you need is love”. Most of all, as Nanjo Fumio – director of the Mori Art Museum – notes “in the wake of the unprecedented catastrophe of the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011, people in Japan have a renewed sense of the true value of love, bonds of friendship and social connections”. Maybe we will never be able to describe properly the nature of a concept as deep and complex as love, but now, we can say that, in this particular moment of the history, love is just what Japan is searching for.