Odani Motohiko, Dying Slave: Stella, 2009–10, steel, paraffin, wax, 5' 10 7/8“ x 16' 5” x 7' 2 5/8".

Odani Motohiko, Dying Slave: Stella, 2009–10, steel, paraffin, wax, 5' 10 7/8“ x 16' 5” x 7' 2 5/8".

Odani Motohiko

Odani Motohiko, Dying Slave: Stella, 2009–10, steel, paraffin, wax, 5' 10 7/8“ x 16' 5” x 7' 2 5/8".

Only in his late thirties, Odani Motohiko is already receiving star treatment, as confirmed once again by his exhibition at the Mori Art Museum, comprising some sixty works created since 1997. Having come of age in what he calls the transitional period—that is, between the eras dominated by analog and digital media—Odani shows his dexterity in modes ranging from traditional crafts and wooden sculptures to multimedia installation. His styles are as various as his references, which range from Michelangelo to horror movies and modern Japanese sculpture. Accordingly, this expansive selection of works was fashionably schizophrenic, as if in an effort to resist being defined through a signature style.

Unfortunately, Odani’s earlier works not only tend to be more concise than his recent ones but are generally of higher quality. The most thought-provoking of the latter include SP4: The SpecterWhat wanders around in every mind, 2009, a fiber-reinforced plastic statue of a mounted horseman, a disintegrating figure whose skeletal body has barely any skin or muscle left on it. The nightmarish piece is Odani’s response to the state of modern sculpture in Japan; he feels the medium has never been successfully localized and is facing a dead end since its importation from the West during the Meiji era. Adopting the Western equestrian model, Odani personifies the state of Japanese sculpture as an avatar of the living dead on the scale of an average Japanese man. With a sword in one hand, this figure seeks a chance for resurrection, just as his maker holds out to become the next Japanese art star after Murakami.

Also suggesting a gothic ethos was I See All, 2010: a wooden statue, more than fourteen feet high, of a young woman standing on a tall tree trunk, in a posture similar to that of prayer, but with her thumbs almost poking her eyes. Her anti-ocularcentric gesture symbolizes a spiritual state that can be reached only by surrendering the corporeal senses. The treatment of the sculpture’s surface to make it look shabby and aged, and the stiff execution of the archaic, Madonna-like subject may seem simply anachronistic and out of place, but by using the primordial medium of wood and evoking its relation to the idea of worship, Odani successfully touches on the historic lineage of sculpture.

Less challenging pieces include a pure spectacle such as Dying Slave: Stella, 2009–10, a gigantic white skull on a sixteen-foot-long pole, rotated steadily on a supporting steel structure. The skull has been augmented with wax and paraffin, dripped on it while it was spinning at high speed; the centrifugal force caused the drips to settle as millions of pointy icicles on the surface of the skull, making it resemble a giant snowball. Although an uncanny sight to behold, this extravagant vanitas finally seems nothing more than a simple exercise on the artist’s part, to see if he can realize one of his many curious visions.

Suspended from the ceiling and on the wall, ten works from an ongoing series, Hollow, 2009, were seemingly weightless figures constructed of laced strands of white, veinlike strips of fiber-reinforced plastic—floating as if frozen in a sea of ether. Generally, the more abstract examples succeed better than those evoking familiar motifs such as a girl on a unicorn, or a Berniniesque head of a woman in religious ecstasy, which lent an unnecessarily kitschy aspect to the ensemble. Some streamlining might have been in order, to make clear that Odani’s grand Tokyo museum debut was more than an egotistical display of technical mastery.

Shinyoung Chung