Water is the source of life in the desert, and the inspiration for 14 Japanese artists featured in Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art’s latest exhibition, Primal Water. Works by four generations of post-World War II artists were chosen by curator Midori Nishizawa, who sought to highlight the various ways—literal, philosophical, poetic and spiritual—water can be expressed through art. Paintings, photography, video and installations offer visitors different perspectives on their relationships to water in a climate where it is most precious as well as provide an introduction to, or expand their knowledge of, Japanese contemporary art.

“Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it,” reads a quote by Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu in an exhibition statement. Resisting being drawn into Sadamasa Motonaga’s Red and Yellow (1963), a fluid explosion of colors that greets guests as they enter the gallery, is futile as well. Motonaga was a significant figure in the avant-garde Gutai art movement, which sought in part to take abstract art to the next level and was fueled by the optimism of Japan’s postwar reconstruction years.

Artists such as Motonaga confronted the totalitarian conformist culture of the past with new techniques, as in this case where he painted onto a tilted canvas and attached pebbles to create tactile contrast. Motonaga’s work can also be seen in the lobby of Aria. Work (Water) is an installation made of polyethylene, water, dye and rope originally made for a 1956 Gutai exhibition in Japan. Within the gallery, Yasuaki Onishi’s installation Vertical Emptiness is the most awe-inspiring. Created by hanging mesquite trees upside down and dripping heated glue over the branches, then crystallizing the glue with a spray of liquid urea, Onishi creates an upside-down winter scene frozen in time, suspended from the ceiling in the center of one of the gallery’s two rooms.

Onishi’s installation is contrasted by his Plate of Phenomena 14FI, which uses glue and graphite on wooden panels to create a texture that looks like black lava. In the adjoining room, Yayoi Kusama’s Portrait of Arthur Rimbaud is set in front of Infinity Nets (Dedicated to Arthur Rimbaud), a large canvas consisting of a vivid fluorescent pink-and-black checkered pattern, creating a visually stimulating background for the sculpture of the French poet. Noe Aoki uses colorful stacked soaps for the two-piece Water in the Air, which looks similar to Ugo Rondinone’s Seven Magic Mountains large-scale public work installed 10 miles south of the Strip off of I-15.

There are many more notable artists including photographer Shöji Ueda, whose surreal photographs of his family at Japan’s Tottori Sand Dunes are represented. There will also be pieces created during the exhibition, which runs through Oct. 29, by the gallery’s first artist-in-residence. Kisho Mwkaiyama has started work on Vendarta 100: Six Elements and the Seasons, a series of 24 3-foot-by-3-foot canvases that use 50 layers of paint and represent the six elements in Buddhist philosophy. Mwkaiyama, a practicing monk, refers to the style as “aesthetic Buddhism,” and after Primal Water closes, the canvases will be part of MGM Resorts’ permanent collection.

Bellagio, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. daily, last admission at 7:30 p.m., $14, $12 seniors, students and Nevada residents, children 12 and under free, admission includes audio tour. 702.693.7871