Art Review: The Mori Arts Center/Young Video Artists Initiative

Computer rendering of Mori Art Museum interior

Roppongi "culture" (wink wink, nudge nudge) is about to change. Don't worry, the hostess clubs and pick-up bars aren't going anywhere. But the Mori Arts Center is coming soon to the Mori Building Company's ¥260 billion Roppongi Hills development, currently under construction.

Mori's new Roppongi is already sporting an impressive trophy case of nearly complete shiny office towers, chic condos, Japanese gardens, and a grand hotel. And like Guggenheim, Getty and other moguls before him, real estate developer Minoru Mori is finally turning some of his riches into art. Opening October 2003, the new Mori Arts Center (MAC) will feature really "high" culture, occupying the top five floors of the 54-story Kohn Pedersen Fox-designed centerpiece of Roppongi Hills.

The MAM will sit atop the Roppongi Hills' centerpiece office tower
David Elliott, director of the Mori Art Museum

The top two of those floors will house the Mori Art Museum (MAM). Englishman David Elliott, appointed director last year following five years at Stockholm's state-owned Moderna Museet, sees the new, private art center becoming the cultural hub of not only Roppongi Hills but all of Tokyo.

Other urban renewal projects with museums and/or concert halls—Tokyo Opera City, Ebisu Garden Place, Ark Hills—have had mixed results. Elliott says Roppongi Hills/MAC is different because everything is conceptually integrated. And it emphasizes the importance of culture by placing it literally above business. "What we've got here is an art museum at the top of a huge 28 acre development. That says something about priority and economics." Mori could have easily rented the prestigious top floors. "But they decided, 'No, we are going to make this a public facility,'" says Elliott.

In addition to displaying contemporary visual and media art, design, and architecture, this new art beacon will commission artwork, organize art education programs, coordinate artist and curator exchanges, conduct research, publish and, in general, stimulate the Japanese contemporary art scene. "The fact that this amount of resources is going into contemporary culture is bound to have an impact," he says.

According to Elliott, Tokyo already has good museums, curators, and artists. But it lacks strong support, especially funding, and a center for cultural discourse. "This will be a very important role for the museum to take on ... to be a center for discussion, a focus for activity," he says. Rather than competing with contemporary art spaces like the Hara Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Elliott sees MAM/MAC providing mutual benefits. "It's an accreditation and consolidation of what already exists," he says.
Education is key to establishing an informed audience invested in the experience of contemporary art, according to Elliott. "People need the information and tools to appreciate their own culture better," he says. The MAC will allow people to participate in contemporary culture via exhibitions, lectures, discussions, continuing education programs, and public art.

The museum also wants to encourage young artists and designers. Young Video Artists Initiative, the MAM's first "pre-event," does that. Elliott selected eight prize-winners (¥300,000 each) and 14 runners-up from an open competition. The show—which opens May 23 and runs through the end of the year in the MAM's temporary exhibition venue, Think Zone—features animation, claymation, film, and pieces that will be projected onto the white floors.

Is this the first of other Mori-sponsored competitions? Will the museum collect? Many details of the MAM program still await decision. For now, Elliott is busy enough hiring curators, planning his first show, "Happiness," and relishing the challenge of building the new museum from the ground up.

Think Zone
Roppongi stn (Hibiya, Toei Oedo lines), exit 1. Zone Roppongi Bldg, Roppongi 6-2-31. Daily 6-10pm. Tel: 03-5770-8824. For information on Roppongi Hills, check

Photo credit: Mori Art Museum

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