“This is Not a Pipe,” the title of Rene Magritte’s 1926 painting of a pipe, succinctly illustrates a paradox in perception. On Magritte’s canvas is a representation of a pipe, not an actual pipe, and so the title is perfectly valid. But how tempting to scoff at this, to regard Magritte as mischievous, slippery. That looks like a pipe, reasons modern man, therefore it is a pipe!

On the cover of his new book, “Uxom Art,” Mario A is identified as a “Japanese Artist.” The same description can be found on the artist’s Web site. But one would not assume he was Japanese from looking at the 44-year-old, Swiss-born, German-raised artist. So what’s up? Is Mario being mischievous, slippery?

“I am now referring to myself as a Japanese artist,” explains Mario, who has lived and worked in this country for 15 years, “to provoke those who would say, ‘It cannot be possible that he is a Japanese artist because he doesn’t look like one.’ This, I consider a very narrow-minded view of things.”

Indeed. And because I have never asked a single artist to produce their passport for a citizenship check, I think it only fair I accept Mario as a Japanese artist. This is significant because I believe that if more people saw Mario as Japanese, he might be one of this country’s art stars — he has made all the right moves over the last decade, and continues to develop hard-edged social commentary with his new work.

Mario’s erotic photography communicates a refreshingly different mood from that of Nobuyoshi Araki, Japan’s best-known shooter of nudes. In Araki’s pictures one feels the photographer’s presence, a presence which is frequently invasive. This is what gives Araki’s work the “grit” that so many people like.

Mario’s subjects, on the other hand, generally seem at ease in their space. As he tends to stick with a small number of models, one also gets a sense of artistic collaboration and mutual respect in Mario’s work. And in recent years, his photographic style has been characterized by the use of an ordered series of pictures to create a narrative.

Last Sunday, I previewed Mario’s new work — photographs, paintings and an installation from the exhibition “The World Is Beautiful.” The show starts April 8 at the Mizuma Gallery in Nakameguro, and readers of this column are invited to the opening party, which starts at 6 p.m.

The centerpiece here is “The World Is Beautiful,” a story, told in 12 C-type 70 × 100 cm photographic prints, about a girl named Bijutsuko (“Child of Art”). From the old Sanzen Temple in Kyoto, Bijutsuko embarks on a journey that is at times stereotypically and at times realistically Japanese. Advancing toward Tokyo, Bijutsuko puts on a pretty Western dress, views the cherry blossoms, rows a boat in Inokashira Park, and finally concludes her journey face down on a bed in the Park Hyatt Hotel with her pantyhose around her ankles.

“It’s an underaged girl being beautiful and cute and kitsch in an environment of cultivated nature; everything that is Japanese,” says Mario of the romp.

Mario’s more forceful sociopolitical commentary is represented here in an anti-fascist work-in-progress titled “Roberto” (the title derives from the first letters of the words Rome, Berlin and Tokyo). “Roberto” is a room-filling installation. At the entrance is a world map, as it might have been had the Axis powers won World War II. All the cities have been renamed to reflect the respective spheres of influence of “victorious” Italy, Germany and Japan — for example, Seoul has become Hideki Tojo City, while Montreal is “Riefenstahlville.”

On the far wall is an old photograph of Mario’s German father in his Nazi uniform, while in the center of the room, a life-size Benito Mussolini in clay hangs upside down from a meat hook.

“It was very important that the Italians hung Mussolini in public after the war,” bristles Mario. “The same thing should have happened to Hitler, and — maybe it is dangerous for me to say this — but I think the same thing should have happened to Hirohito. People have to confront their history, and Japan has not done that.”

When Mario says things like that, I am glad he is a Japanese artist.

“Roberto” will eventually comprise some 300 war photographs documenting Italian, German and Japanese fascism and war atrocities. I have to wonder whether the completed version will ever be shown in Japan. In 1994, when Nobuyuki Ohura displayed photographs of Emperor Showa alongside anatomical charts (the message being that the emperor was a mere mortal), rightwingers targeted the Toyama Prefectural Museum of Modern Art. The directors immediately caved in, removed the work, “Embracing Perspective,” and burned the exhibition catalogs.

If Mario means to provoke, then “Roberto,” when finished, will serve him well.

Also at the Mizuma are a set of found paintings (bought cheaply in flea markets and plucked from trash piles) which Mario has signed “Pici bia.com” in tribute to the French Dadaist; a series of treated bestiality pictures downloaded from the Internet titled “The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Dogs, Even” (a pun on the Marcel Duchamp masterpiece); and several garish oil-on-canvas works from Mario’s ongoing “Japanese Anime Love” series.

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