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Odani Motohiko’s Phantom Limb at the Mori

January 11, 2011

by Joseph Banh

Installation view, Phantom Limb, Mori Art Museum

Located on the 53rd floor of the Mori Tower in Tokyo’s Roppongi Hills is the Mori Art Museum, a well curated and elegant space where I recently had the opportunity to experience Phantom Limb, an exhibition of works by Japanese artist Odani Motohiko. I say I was able to “experience” as opposed to “view” the works because it truly was an occasion for the senses. The exhibition is a survey of Motohiko’s sculptural works over the past decade – though not all the works may be categorized as what is commonly understood as sculptural. This perhaps is what was most intriguing as alluded to by the museum’s own assertion that, “Odani, who possesses a keenly critical understanding of sculpture, has resisted (or taken advantage of) the medium’s conventional image of weightiness or substance”.

The day I visited was during the New Year holiday and thus was quite busy (most other museums in Japan were closed so it’s a credit to the Mori that it remained open), but the pieces – installed in essentially a white cube space, retained a certain gravitas that was only enhanced by the many people that made their way through the exhibition. With cycles of life and death as a prevalent theme the power of the works seemed enhanced by the ebb and flow of visitors through the galleries.

What I enjoyed most about the exhibition is that the works convey not only a mastery of technique (the works are highly polished), but also a depth of thinking that was extremely engaging. Motohiko explores binaries such as beauty and ugliness, life and death, the spiritual and the secular, along with notions of absence, and traces…phantoms, which, in less capable hands can come across as cliché at best, or worse, simply uninteresting. To my mind, Motohiko’s pieces were reminiscent of certain Surrealist works in that they were imbued with psychological aspects, but also concerned with the realm of human bodily perception as evident by his selection of media (i.e. – teeth, human hair). In this way the works were not disinterested artworks meant to function independently, but rather were thoroughly engaging to the visitor at a conceptual, aesthetic and phenomenological level.

The result was an experience that was at times unsettling and creepy, at others sublime and wonderful. I was completely engaged at every moment and above all, I had a lot of fun going through the galleries. Odani Motohiko’s Phantom Limb at the Mori Art Museum is truly an example of how contemporary art museums can create powerful and meaningful experiences for visitors. The exhibition runs from November 27, 2010 – February 27, 2011. If you’re in Tokyo, it’s definitely worth a visit.


Mori Art Museum: http://www.mori.art.museum/english/contents/phantom_limb/info/index.html

Phantom Limb at the Mori Art Museum: http://www.mori.art.museum/english/contents/phantom_limb/exhibition/index.html

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