Roppongi Hills gets love on its 10th anniversary

by Andrew Lee

Staff Writer

Roppongi Hills was unlike anything Tokyo had ever seen before. Until it opened 10 years ago, Roppongi was more often seen as a “High Touch Town,” where businessmen partied with foreign hostesses and off-duty soldiers packed the nightclubs.

Roppongi Hills gave the area a more wholesome and stylish appeal. The developer of the project, the late property tycoon Minoru Mori, said at the time that he believed Roppongi Hills would become “the ultimate destination for people all over the world.” While that may have been a tad hyperbolic, it certainly gave the capital somewhere special: A place where people could spend the day shopping, go to view art or take a date to a classy restaurant.

Roppongi Hills also attracted major overseas corporations such as Lehman Brothers and Google, who moved into the offices of the area’s crown jewel — Mori Tower. The complex’s swanky living quarters saw an influx of celebrities and company-funded expatriates, lending the area a certain cosmopolitan cachet.

In all, Roppongi Hills was a success, and 10 years on its influence on other parts of the capital can be seen in similar developments such as nearby Tokyo Midtown, the Marunouchi area redevelopment and Shibuya’s Hikarie — locations that have continued the trend of the building-complex as a tourist destination.

An integral part of the Roppongi Hills formula has always been art — whether it’s the public art that dots the site or exhibitions held at the Mori Art Museum.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the opening of Roppongi Hills and the Mori Art Museum, the museum is staging “All You Need is Love: From Chagall to Kusama and Hatsune Miku.” This follows on from the museum’s inaugural 2003 exhibition, “Happiness: A Survival Guide for Art and Life,” once again exploring an essential human emotion: love.

Since Roppongi Hills is a prime date spot, it’s almost certain that over the next few months “All You Need is Love” will become a popular romantic destination. Young lovers beware, though, love is a complex beast and artists are often influenced by its darker sides.

Some of the concepts included in this show include love-suicide, heartbreak, narcissism and the death of a loved one. There is a distinct lack of pieces themed on the kind of romantic love that takes your breath away, the kind songs are written about and chocolates are given for.

This may not be the best spot for a first date.

The exhibition is divided into five sections: “What is Love?,” “A Couple in Love,” “Love in Losing,” “Family and Love” and “Love Beyond.”

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 colorful butterflies seems innocent at first, until you grasp that it’s a classic Hirst statement on life and death; that those butterflies died for art.

In the same room is Jeff Koon’s “Sacred Heart” (1994-2007), a 3.7-meter-high sculpture based on a gold-foil-wrapped chocolate heart — a fun piece of pop art that’s playful enough to be the poster child of the show.

These two works are accompanied in the opening room by Robert Indiana’s iconic 1966 “Love” oil painting (the first time it has been shown in Japan) and Korean artist Gimhongsok’s damaged, beaten up sculptural reaction to it — “Love” (2012).

Also in the “What is Love?” section is Hideyuki Sawayanagi’s “You Will Be Possessed by Love in 30 Seconds” (2001), an installation in a dark room featuring a screen displaying a 30-second countdown to a bright flash of light that burns the word “LOVE” onto your retinas, resulting in an afterimage that lingers long enough to affect how you view the works that follow.

The “Couple in Love” section is next, which opens with such luminaries as Marc Chagall, Constantin Brancusi, Giorgio de Chirico and Rene Magritte, and features a model of Auguste Rodin’s “The Kiss” (c. 1882-87). In all there are a stunning number of famous artists in this show, which is bound to please visitors who like to check famous names off their art bucket-list.

The show also includes work by Salvador Dali, Tracy Emin, Frida Kahlo, David Hockney and Taro Okamoto among others.

Generally, “All You Need is Love” is the kind of populist show that the Mori puts on every once in a while, a crowd-pleaser that has something for everybody — the inclusion of virtual idol Hatsune Miku in the title is a giveaway that organizers are trying to attract a new and younger customer base.

The danger with hodgepodge shows such as this, though, is that the volume and variety of work will overwhelm the viewer, who’ll be left wondering, “What was the point?” Nevertheless, there are memorable moments here.

Adel Abidin’s “52 Guaranteed Affection” (2006) in the “Love in Losing” section raises a smile, with a video of the artist offering words of advice to men to guarantee they will not lose that special someone — “Looking good and smelling good is really important. … Admire her dress and her style.” Wise words indeed.

“LOVE+1+1″ by Yakushimaru Etsuko + Manabe Daito + Ishibashi Motoi + Sugano Kaoru is an interactive installation that uses voice-recognition and artificial intelligence to drive an iPad-headed industrial robot that sings, in a sweet anime-style female voice, poems based on words spoken by the viewer. It is one of the few works here that seems genuinely lovable — in that kawaii (cute) way Japan excels at.

Most of the show, however, is much more serious.

Nanjo Fumio, director of the Mori Art Museum, notes that “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,” and several artists have provided work that relates to the disaster.

Chim↑Pom’s video “KI-AI 100″ (2011), for example, shows the artists and local youths huddling in a circle shouting words of encouragement and their hopes for the future. The shouts begin seriously enough, with cries of “Go for it Tohoku!” But soon they morph into more personal wishes (“I want a girlfriend!”) and irony (“Radiation is great!”). When the camera reveals that the group are actually shouting among tsunami debris, including a washed-up ship, you can’t help but feel that having a sense of humor and the love of good friends can overcome any hardship.

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 their 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 color how you approach the work in this show. But with more than 200 pieces on view, from around 70 artists, everyone should be able to find at least one work with which they can empathize.

Of course, if art is not your thing then maybe holographic pop stars are. Having performed with a symphony and in an opera, Hatsune Miku continues her incursion into the high-brow art world with her inclusion in “All You Need is Love.” However, separate from the actual exhibition is the Miku Cafe on the 52nd floor of Mori Tower. There fans and curious art lovers alike can listen to Vocaloid tunes and sample such Miku-related fare as Miku Pita Bread and Miku Pasta. Perhaps get a Mika Cake to celebrate Roppongi Hills’ birthday while you’re there.

“All You Need is Love: From Chagall to Kusuma and Hatsune Miku” runs through Sept. 1 at the Mori Art Museum in Minato-ku, Tokyo (10 a.m.-10 p.m., till 5 p.m. on Tuesdays). Admission is ¥1,500 for adults (¥1,200 in advance), ¥1,000 for university and high school students (¥900 in advance) and ¥500 for children. For more information, call (03) 5777-8600 or visit www.mori.art.museum.

Sprucing up the ‘hood

Public art has been an important part of the Roppongi Hills experience since it opened. From the giant spider “Maman” by Louise Bourgeois that greets visitors near the exit of Roppongi Station, to the giant digital numbers of “Counter Void” by Tatsuo Miyajima that light up in a random sequence on one of the buildings, artwork surrounds the complex. To mark Roppongi Hills’ 10th anniversary, a new work has been installed in the pond of Mori Garden. Jean-Michel Othoniel’s “Kin no Kokoro” (2013) is a sculpture made up of golden spheres that twist into the shape of a heart as viewers walk around the pond.