WATER WORKS: Exhibit of Japanese art whets one’s curiosity

An island nation. A desert oasis. Opposite locales and opposite perspectives, to be sure. Yet the contrasts connect in “Primal Water,” a new exhibit of contemporary Japanese works at Bellagio’s Gallery of Fine Art — and in Aria’s lobby atrium — through Oct. 21.
With triple-digit temperatures a fact of summertime life in Las Vegas, the prospect of a water-themed art exhibit offers a welcome respite from the annual inferno. But, as curator Midori Nishizawa explains, “Primal Water” themes extend far beyond the literal.

Although Las Vegas and Japan may be at opposite ends of the water-is-life spectrum, “Primal Water’s” theme has “connections that everybody can relate to,” Nishizawa says, as well as “many different layers and layers of meaning.”

The two dozen artworks by 14 featured artists include paintings and sculpture, photographs, film and site-specific installations.
“It’s easy to just put paintings up,” says Tarissa Tiberti, executive director of art and culture for MGM Resorts, who oversees the Bellagio gallery. “It’s a lot of coordination when you pull from so many different areas, but when you pull from so many different areas,” the result is “a better all-around show.”

The exhibit’s two site-specific installations illustrate “Primal Water’s” range.

“Water (Mizu), 1956/2018” — which Tiberti describes as “water hammocks,” stretched fabric with “colored tubes of water” — brings the late Sadamasa Motonaga’s work to Aria’s lobby, following its 1956 debut at an exhibition by members of the avant-garde Gutai group, which he helped found.

Because Motonaga died in 2011, his family is installing “Water (Mizu)” at Aria; previous stops include the 1970 World Expo in Osaka, Japan, the 2009 Venice Bienniale and New York’s Guggenheim Museum in 2013.

The exhibit’s other installation — Yasuaki Onishi’s “Vertical Emptiness BG, 2018” — finds Onishi suspending local mesquite trees from the ceiling, then applying glue and a liquid that, “when it dries, it crystallizes — like a snowscape,” Nishizawa explains. “In the summer. In Las Vegas.”

The “Primal Water” exhibit took shape after a colleague of Nishizawa introduced her to Jim Murren, MGM Resorts’ chief executive officer, who asked her to create an exhibition of post-war Japanese art.

“I started with what Las Vegas is about,” she explains. “I wanted it to be like planting a seed.”

After three months of contemplation and conversation,
“Primal Water” began to take shape.

“Everyone can relate to the water,” she says.

She hopes “Primal Water” will inspire those who experience it
to “look at water in a different way. It’s about awareness toward water as a source of life — an element that makes this earth a wonderful place.”