Kisho Mwkaiyama’s permanent Mandalay Bay installation shines in an unexpected place

Kisho Mwkaiyama in the Bellagio’s Artist Studio.
Dawn-Michelle Baude

In Mandalay Bay, between Starbucks and Border Grill, an oasis awaits. Not the usual Las Vegas oasis with poolside waitstaff in fetching swimwear, although an inviting “beach” sparkles right outside the windows. This oasis is more subtle and elusive, catering to a contemplative turn of mind. Twenty-four medium-format paintings by Kisho Mwkaiyama hang on the connector wall, their complex significance perhaps overlooked by conference attendees trailing wheeled suitcases en route to the next panel. Or not. Some stop to look. You should, too.

Mwkaiyama’s Vendarta 100: Six Elements and the Seasons, commissioned by MGM Resorts Art & Culture, culminates the artist’s six-month residency at the Bellagio’s Artist Studio. Born in Japan, Mwkaiyama spent his childhood on Mount Koya, the seat of Shingon Buddhism since its early 9th-century founding. Shingon Buddhism—esoteric Buddhism—differs from other strains of Buddhism in distinct ways, including its unusual position on enlightenment. Rather than requiring many lifetimes, Shingon Buddhism holds that enlightenment can occur during a single lifetime, or even in a fiery instant.

Mwkaiyama’s 24 monochromes are a kind of visual synopsis of Shingon doctrine, although American viewers might more readily associate the paintings with 20th-century art movements, such as Minimalism. The works are arranged in four rows, each dedicated to a season: spring, summer, fall and winter. The six paintings in each row, in turn, correspond to Shingon’s “six great elements”: water, land/earth, fire, consciousness, wind, emptiness/space. Using a muted, restricted palette, Mwkaiyama assigned colors to each season and element, slowly and steadily building up layers of iridescent acrylic in visible patterns of horizontal brush strokes. The “summer” row, for example, is a tonal gradation of pink, orange and purple, portraying the effect of summer warmth on the senses. Slight changes in tint, shade and intensity vary from element to element, season to season.

Taken as a whole, Vendarta 100 is a powerfully understated spectrum conveying chromatic harmony and cyclic continuity among seasons, and, by extension, the building blocks of reality itself. Each glittering monochrome functions as a luminous facet of a unified whole, exemplifying the “light” of “en-light-enment” at the heart of Buddhism. Although some Shingon Buddhist teachings are known only to initiates, practitioners attain enlightenment through rituals, including contemplation of sacred mandalas said to transmit the unified energy of all creation. Mwkaiyama’s monochromes may serve a related function. Before you pick up that Caramel Macchiato, you might want to stand before Vendarta 100 and see what happens.

Vendarta 100: Six Elements and the Seasons by Kisho Mwkaiyama Mandalay Bay, 702-632-7777.

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