Mario A at the Art Space Mirage

by Monty DiPietro

One of the most memorable moments from the night I visit the opening of German photographer Mario Aís Art Space Mirage show "Néo Japonisme Théâtral," occurs on the train ride home. As I am leaving Akiko Ogoseís gallery, the tiny woman with green hair hands me a big red hardcover book and says, "I think you might like this." I leave her Shibuya Ward gallery with a copy of "Maccheroni" tucked under my arm. Ten minutes later I open the book on a crowded Yamanote line train, and feel the weight of dozens of eyes fall onto Italian artist Henri Maccheroniís monochrome close-up photographs of female genitalia. One guy, leaning over my shoulder for a peek, asks me in astonishment, "Is that a Japanese book?"

It is a Japanese book, one that owes its existence to a remarkable woman who is now hosting a show of somewhat less explicit nudes by German-Italian photographer Mario A.

"Ogose was one of the first to publish those kind of photographs in Japan, she has always been avant-garde," says Mario A, 38, as Ogose waves a wad of bills in front of his face and laughs, "Weíre selling them!"

What Ogose is selling is new work from Mario Aís ongoing "Néo Japonisme" series - black and white photographs of model Sachiko Hara in a variety of frank poses, a coy expression on her face as she reclines in tatami mat rooms and in love hotels, amid a selection of props which invariably includes a Kirin beer bottle. These are pictures that say "Japan."

"Of course theyíre cliché," says Mario A, who divides his time between Germany and Japan. "One of the purposes of my series is to use the clichés made by foreigners about Japan, and then to re-arrange them, therefore Iím calling it "Néo Japonisme." It is not very different from someone like (James A. M.) Whistler painting a picture of a Japanese lady in bed. Now, 100 years later, Iím photographing a Japanese woman in a love hotel, and because Iím a foreigner this is "Néo Japonisme." And my subject must be a woman because of the clichés. When Iím in Europe they are still always asking about geisha and Fujiyama and all that stuff!"

And who is buying?

"Mostly local private collectors," says Ogose. People such as Hiroki Munehiro, a photographer who laid down 33,000 yen and snapped up one of Mario Aís limited edition prints that features a heavily made-up Hara perched on a sofa. "I like this picture because I really feel Ms. Haraís presence in the work. I think what makes Mario A different from an erotic photographer like Nobuyoshi Araki is the relationship between cameraman and model. In Marioís photographs, the model retains her own personality and space."

Mario A does not look like an erotic photographer. He rather resembles Michael J. Fox with a mustache. His dress and manners are neat and crisp, and the only time he gets testy is when I ask him about Araki. It seems he has heard the question before. "Please donít compare me to Araki!" he says. "It happens all the time, and I have no comment on him. No comment."

Mario Aís reaction is understandable Ė his work does owe more to Whistler than to Araki. The prints are good, and nicely fill the 30 square meter Mirage Art Spaceís beige walls Ė the show is worth looking in on. By documenting instead of parodying, "Néo Japonisme Théâtral" provides Japanese with a look at their contemporary culture as seen through an informed Europeanís eyes. And as Ogose is quick to point out, "Foreigners will like the pictures too because they look so Japanese."

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