DAY 8 (2/6): ARCHITECTURE OF THE 21st CENTURY, 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (21世紀美術館), Kanazawa (金沢), Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県), Japan, 2018.06.01
For architects and designers, the single most important reason coming to Kanazawa is perhaps to visit the contemporary art museum just across the street from Kenroku-en Garden. Designed by Pritzker Prize awarded firm SANAA under Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa and opened in 2004, the unique 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (21世紀美術館) is one of the most widely published contemporary architecture in Japan during the 2000’s. Staying low as a single storey building, the circular building aims to minimize its impact to the surrounding landscape. Exhibition galleries, library, lecture hall, workshops, offices, lobbies, and courtyards are housed in a huge circular building fully cladded with glass at its circumference. Given we have seen the architecture in design magazines and Internet websites throughout the years, SANAA’s famous museum in Kanazawa is like a friend that we have never met. Since the museum would get crowded with its popularity not just for tourists but also local visitors coming for workshops and cultural events, we made the effort to arrive before the facility’s opening time.
With multiple functions configured within a circular plan with a diameter of 112.5m, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (21世紀美術館) is a unique piece of architecture accessible from all four directions.
The outer facade is entirely covered with full height glazing to express a sense of welcome and transparency for visitors.
Outside the circular building, there are a number of outdoor art installations erected around the museum.
Perhaps inspired by the building form, the outdoor art installations are also organic or circular in form.
Before entering the museum, we walked around the building once to check out the art installations as well as the building itself.
Workshops and other common areas lined along the circumference of the museum building.
Just like many tourist attractions in Japan, the famous museum is also popular with school kids.
We managed to get our admission tickets without much queuing minutes after the museum opened its doors.
The first thing we did was to find a locker to store our bags so that we could enjoy a carefree visit.
Along the curved glazed facade, there were a number of gathering spaces of different sizes available, perhaps catered for different programme.
Everything in the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is clean, minimal and neutral in colour.
Photography was prohibited at indoor exhibitions. At the centre of the building, a glazed walkway passed through a courtyard dominated by a beautiful archway made of green wall.
In the glazed walkway, we could have a glimpse of the interesting art installation on the roof.
The Swimming Pool by Leandro Erlich is the most famous art installation in the museum.
The piece is accessible from both the Ground and Basement levels. From the Ground level, spectators can look down and see the visitors in the basement level through a shallow level of water, as if looking looking into a real swimming pool.
From the basement level, spectators find themselves in a pool like environment as if walking at the bottom of a swimming pool.
The water effect appears in the most spectacular fashion when the sun is out from above.
DAY 7 (5/7): LIGHTHOUSE, CHOCOLATE & SAMURAI HOMES, Oyama Shrine (尾山神社) and Nagamachi Samurai District (長町), Kanazawa (金沢), Ishikawa Prefecture (石川県), Japan, 2018.05.31
Branded as Little Kyoto, Kanazawa is famed for its century old neighborhoods and buildings. With only a fraction of Kyoto’s tourists, Kanazawa is a great place to appreciate the machiya, or the old Japanese timber townhouses from the Edo Period, and neighborhoods of geisha and samurai. Close to the castle hill, Nagamachi (長町) is the most famous samurai neighborhood in the city with well preserved samurai residences. From Kenroku-en and Kanazawa castle park, It is about 15-20 minutes of walk to Nagamachi. On our way, we made a detour to Oyama Shrine (尾山神社). Moved to its present location in 1872, the shrine is the most prominent shrine complex in Kanazawa, especially the iconic west facing gate structure standing proudly with a mixed style of Japanese, European and Chinese influences. As soon as we stepped in the shrine complex, we saw groups of people setting up art installations in the temple garden. Perhaps the artworks were set up for the upcoming Hyakumangoku Matsuri (百万石まつり). We strolled around the complex and finally came to the unique front gate. Designed by a Dutch architect, the gate is consisted of three levels. The first level presents design features from Japanese and Chinese influences, and the upper levels are inspired by European styles, including the famous stained glass window at the top tier which was once served as a lighthouse.
Exited Oyama Shrine from its front gate, we continued to walk west into the Nagamachi (長町), the tranquil neighborhood famous for its samurai residences. Sitting just a stone throw away from Kanazawa Castle, Nagamachi had a high concentration of samurai residences in the Edo Period. Today, the water canals, narrow lanes, earthen walls, old trees, and traditional gateways still exist. Some houses are still occupied by families of former samurai. Before visiting one of the former samurai residence, the Nomura Clan Samurai Home (武家屋敷跡 野村家), we couldn’t resist the temptation and stopped by a chocolate patisserie shop called Saint Nicolas.
The Oyama Shrine is dedicated to Maeda Toshiie, the first lord of the Kaga Domain.
While we were there, local communities were busy setting up art installations in the temple ground.
Some of the art installations were made of materials that we could hardly imagine. This piece set up laser disks (LD) in an arrangement that resembled a lily pond.
A glassy pavilion seemed like a brand new addition to the shrine complex. It might well become an information centre soon.
We exited the Oyama Shrine through its main gate. Once served as a lighthouse, the top level of the gate features a colourful stained glass window.
During daytime, it is difficult to see the real colours of the stained glass window.
Outside of the gate, a small procession route led us west towards Nagamachi, the neighborhood famous for its samurai residences.
Before going into the lanes of samurai residences, we reached a small street flanked by a small water channel and stopped by Saint Nicolas, a delightful patisserie and chocolate shop.
Saint Nicolas offers a wide range of chocolate, ice-cream and patisserie.
We decided to sit down for a tea break before ending our day with a visit of the Nomura Clan Samurai Home (武家屋敷跡 野村家).
Finding our way to Nomura Clan Samurai Home (武家屋敷跡 野村家), we wandered around the small lanes of Nagamachi.
Unlike the historical districts in Kyoto, Nagamachi of Kanazawa to us was much more peaceful and saw far less tourists.
For 280 years, many top and middle class samurais lived in Nagamachi near the Kanazawa Castle. Although most mud walls were reconstructed in modern days, the charm of the old samurai era remained.
The Onosho Canal is the oldest waterway in Kanazawa. In the old days, it was a means to carry goods from the harbour to the castle town.
DAY 2 (2/5): “ALL ABOUT MY LOVE”, Yayoi Kusama’s Exhibition at Matsumoto City Museum of Art (松本市美術館), Matsumoto (松本), Japan, 2018.05.26
First appeared in 1966, the stainless steel balls floating in the natural flow of pond water of Yayoi Kusama (草間彌生)’s “Narcissus Garden” was a remarkable landscape art piece that we saw in 2013 at Inhotim, an outdoor art museum and botanical garden near Belo Horizonte of Brazil. During the same trip, we went on to see her retrospective show “Obsesión infinita [Infinite Obsession]” at Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil in Rio de Janeiro. It was an mind-blowing experience to enter Yayoi Kusama’s world of polka dots for the first time. Four and a half years has passed. This time, we were fortunate to swing by Matsumoto, Yayoi Kusama’s birthplace, on our way to the Japanese Alps and got a chance to see her latest show at the city’s art museum. Since its grand opening in 2003, Matsumoto City Museum of Art (松本市美術館) has held three Yayoi Kusama’s shows. With 180 pieces in display, “All About My Love (私の愛のすべて) has become the fourth show for the famous daughter of Matsumoto.
Born in 1929 and raised in Matsumoto, Yayoi Kusama is a prolific artist with a career spanning many decades. Since the age of 10, Yayoi Kusama experienced hallucinations of light flashes, auras, or dense fields of dots. These vivid imagery has since become a powerful source of inspirations for many of her works. In her childhood, she was also inspired by the smooth and fluid forms of white river stones near her home, which has led to another major influence in her works. Yayoi Kusama began exhibiting her works in Japan in 1950s. In 1957 at the age of 27, she moved to the United States to pursue greater freedom and respect for an avant-garde woman artist. She stayed in the US from 1957 to 1972, based mainly in New York City. In New York, she soon became an active member in the circle of avant-garde artists, befriended many artists and activists of her era, produced paintings, art installations, performance art, photography, and films, involved in a number of social movements including anti-war protests and opened a naked painting studio and a gay social club. She stood at the forefront of the avant-garde art scene and held exhibitions/ performances in established venues such as MoMA and the Venice Biennale. In 1973, she fell ill and returned to Japan. She checked into Tokyo’s Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill in 1977, and has stayed there since then. After leaving New York, she was soon forgotten in the international art scene until the early 1990s, when retrospective shows and large outdoor installations revived international interest in her works. Some notable pieces included the 1993 Japanese pavilion at the Venice Biennale, where she created a mirrored room filled with small pumpkin sculptures, and soon later, huge yellow pumpkin sculptures covered with black dots (representing a kind of her alter-ego) emerged around the world, and so as various reiterations of “Narcissus Garden” around the world. In recent years, collaborations with commercial labels such as Louis Vuitton and Lancome have further brought the veteran avant-garde back in the limelight.
It was just a 20-minute walk from Matsumoto Castle to Matsumoto City Museum of Art. The museum building was covered with the trademark of Yayoi Kusama, the Queen of Polka Dots.
We were greeted by Yayoi Kusama’s “The Visionary Flowers”, an eye-catching installation of three wacky-looking tulips that have stood at the museum forecourt since 2002.
After presenting our online-purchased tickets, we followed the coloured footprints and headed upstairs to the show.
Photography was not allowed for most of the show, except the common atrium and one of the painting galleries.
Somehow the red polka dots fitted in very well with the minimalist museum interior.
Another Yayoi Kusama’s flower installation inside the museum.
A paper cut of Yayoi Kusama was offered as a photo spot for visitors.
The room filled with paintings from the “My Eternal Soul” series was the only gallery that photography was allowed.
Visitors enjoyed themselves by making selfies in front of the colourful paintings.
Under the power of the Polka Dot Queen, even the food at the museum cafe provided an Yayoi Kusama experience.
Through a polka dot on the window, we could see a version of Yayoi Kusama’s most recognizable yellow pumpkin in the museum courtyard.
Polka dots were everywhere.
We couldn’t leave the museum without a closer look at the yellow pumpkin.
While most visitors went to make selfies at the yellow pumpkin, kids were having fun at the water feature in the courtyard.
A short metro ride took us to Roppongi (六本木), a business and entertainment district dominated by the high-rise complexes of Roppongi Hills (2003) and Tokyo Midtown (2006). Before the completion of these mixed-use developments, Roppongi was well known for its disco scene since the late 1960’s. In 2014, we visited the area for the first time to explore these complexes and the nearby National Art Center (国立新美術館) in a stormy day. This time, we came specifically to check out the exhibitions at Mori Art Museum and 21_21 Design Sight.
At Roku Roku Plaza of Roppongi Hills, Louise Bourgeois’ famous sculpture “Maman” was given a temporary makeover by Magda Sayeg, the textile artist who was responsible for a wide range of yarn installations in cities around the world.
On the observation deck of Mori Tower, we had a good view of the surrounding area. The wavy facade of Kisho Kurokawa’s National Art Center stood out at the forefront.
To mark its 15th anniversary, the Mori Art Museum was hosting an exhibition on Japanese architecture on the 53rd floor of Mori Tower.
“Japan in Architecture: Genealogies of Its Transformation” presented the essence of modern Japanese architecture in 9 sections: 1) Possibilities of Wood, 2) Transcendent Aesthetics, 3) Roofs of Tranquility, 4) Crafts as Architecture, 5) Linked Spaces, 6) Hybrid Architecture, 7) Forms of Living Together, 8) Japan Discovered, and 9) Living with Nature.
In each section, the topics were presented with physical models, design installations, architectural drawings, project photos, hand sketches, etc. Photography was not allowed for most displays.
A causal seating area offered further reading on Japanese architecture.
A one-to-one model of a Japanese tea house offered visitors a chance to see the essence of traditional minimalist architecture.
This large wooden model of what looked like a traditional Japanese home was in fact the Tange House designed by architectural maestro Kenzo Tange (丹下健三). Built in 1953, the Tange House presented a fusion of traditional style and customs of modern living.
Towards the end of the exhibition, there was an eye-catching multi-media show made with 3D projections.
After a good taste of Japanese architecture at Mori, we walked a few blocks north to 21_21 Design Sight, a small design museum at Hinokicho Park (檜町公園) in Tokyo Midtown.
With the beautiful terracotta cladding, the 20-acre Tokyo Midtown is an elegant and highly recognizable high-rise complex.
With glass canopies and shade trees, the outdoor areas of Tokyo Midtown exemplify a role model of livable city.
Last time when we came to 21_21 Design Sight, the facility was closed for exhibition installation. This time, a photography show “New Planet Photo City – William Klein and Photographers Living in the 22nd Century” was held, and we were able to see the show as well as the building designed by Tadao Ando.
Despite its small scale, Ando’s 21_21 Design Sight was an interesting attraction for design enthusiasts.
Curated by photographic critic and art historian Toshiharu Ito, the show began with a video presentation of William Klein’s photographs on the 20th century urbanity, and then contemporary photography on city and people by various Asian photographers.
Ando’s signature fair faced concrete provided a beautiful backdrop for light and shadow.
Outside 21_21 Design Sight, the afternoon sun was soft and relaxing.
We sat on a bench in Hinokicho Park (檜町公園) to take a brief rest, and decided to follow Google Map for a 25-minute walk to Aoyama (青山). Time was getting a little late and we weren’t sure if we could still make it to see Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum (岡本太郎記念館), the former home of renounced artist Taro Okamoto. We left Tokyo Midtown and walked west from Nogizaka Station (乃木坂駅), passed by the peaceful Aoyama Cemetery (青山霊園), and reached the fabulous Nezu Museum (根津美術館) in Aoyama at around 4:15pm. From Nezu, it was only a block from Taro Okamoto’s former residence, and we had about 1.5 hour to visit the house, its exhibitions and cafe. Time was a little tight and we were quite tired due to the midnight flight. We decided to leave the museum until next time in town.
Instead, we opted for Cafe Kitsuné at a side street off the fashionable Omotesando (表参道), where the creative talents of world famous fashion designers and architects converged into high-end fashion boutiques. Associated with Kitsuné, a French electronic music record and fashion label (Kitsuné Maison) created by Gildas Loaec, Masaya Kuroki and company Abake, Cafe Kitsuné is a little gem in Aoyama for anyone who loves coffee and design.
The nice coffee from Japan’s first Slayer coffee machine and the stylish interior made the visit worthwhile.
After a full day excursion of historical temples and natural scenery in Nikko, we decided to spend the next day to explore another neighborhood in Tokyo. We started the day at the southwest area of Sumida District (墨田区), near the metro station of Ryogoku (両国). Many tourists come to Ryogoku (両国) for sumo (相撲): visit sumo stables to view professional practice, or checked out chanko nabe restaurants for a sumo meal, or even watch a game of sumo wrestling at Ryogoku Kokugikan (Ryogoku Sumo Hall). We, however, came to the area for museum hopping.
Opened in 2016, the Sumida Hokusai Museum is being considered as a novel cultural icon of Sumida. Designed by Kazuyo Sejima (妹島 和世), the sleek architecture houses exhibitions to showcase the life and works of the world famous ukiyo-e (浮世絵) artist Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾 北斎). With his Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (富嶽三十六景), Hokusai is definitely the most iconic figure of ukiyo-e (浮世絵) in the Edo Period (1603 – 1868). Kazuyo Sejima (妹島 和世), the founder of SANAA and a recipient of the Pritzker Prize in architecture with Ryue Nishizawa, is also a generation defining Japanese architect in her own right. From the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, New Museum in New York, Rolex Learning Centre in Lausanne, to Louvre Lens Museum in France, Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa of SANAA have inspired uncounted architects and designers around the world in the last two decades.
The Midoricho Park (緑町公園) where Sumida Hokusai Museum is erected, is also the birthplace of Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾 北斎).
Sejima’s building immediately became a cultural icon in the rather low key residential neighborhood. The building provides an interesting backdrop for the community play area of Midoricho Park.
The building scale and the facade’s level of reflectiveness express a certain degree of novelty without creating an overwhelming impact to the surrounding context.
The cave like slit at each of the four sides provides a prominent entrance gateway at each side.
The reflectivity of the museum’s metal cladding is right on.
Everything on the facade is clean and minimal.
We walked to the main entrance via one of the triangular opening on the facade.
The facets of the glass panes and the reflections of the outside offer a unique entrance experience.
The detailing of the triangular opening is once again clean and minimal.
The angular aspects of the architecture is carried through into the interior.
The washroom on the ground floor is a cute little cube at the lobby.
Beside Sejima’ architecture, the works of Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾 北斎) were well worth the admission.
The exhibition space is not big. Most of his paintings are hung along the wall. Artifacts such as books and sketches.
The most famous works by Kazuyo Sejima is Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (富嶽三十六景 Fugaku Sanjūroku-kei). A selection of the 36 prints had been put on display.
The Great Wave off Kanagawa is perhaps the most well known image by Katsushika Hokusai.
Some of the final works by Katsushika Hokusai are also on display.
A wax display depicting the studio of Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾 北斎) and his daughter back in the Edo Period.
Outside of the exhibition area, there is a seating area with great views towards the Sky Tree.
Completed in 1959, the National Museum of Western Art is the only building in the Far East designed by modernist architectural maestro Le Corbusier. In 2016, the museum building has been inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage along with 16 other Le Corbusier’s works such as Villa Savoye, Unite d’habitation Marseille, Notre-Dame-Haut de Ronchamp, Chandigarh Capitol Complex, etc. We came for the modernist architecture, although many paintings and sculptures on display by world renowned artists were quite interesting too.
Precast concrete panels were used as the main cladding material for the museum.
We were greeted at the front entrance by Émile-Antoine Bourdelle’s Hercules the archer. Bourdelle was an influential French sculptor in late 19th and early 20th century.
The Thinker at Tokyo National Museum of Western Art was made after the death of Auguste Rodin.
The lobby atrium of the museum was a pleasant surprise. The high volume of the space and the trunk-like columns drew our attention to the unique skylight above.
A skylight consisted of multiple triangles provides an interesting design feature to the space, and also magnificent indirect lighting.
An architectural model provides a sectional view of the atrium and shows the exterior form of the skylight feature.
At one side of the atrium, a zigzag ramp led all visitors to the main exhibition on the upper level.
On the upper deck, we could get a clear view of the lobby atrium with its statues.
Again, the concept of bringing indirect sunlight into the interior was the clear intent from Le Corbusier. The glazing bulkhead above the paintings provided the main source of ambient light.
The collection of the museum ranges from Renaissance to the modern ages.
The glazing feature brings in indirect sunlight, but it also creates a long bulkhead along one side of the exhibition hall.
Some of the paintings and statues were interesting, but our focus was always on the architecture itself.
At the museum courtyard, we could see the various facade cladding materials used at different periods of expansion.
At the forecourt, another zigzag ramp supposedly leads visitors to the lower courtyard. Now the entire area, including the exterior ramp, is closed off.
After the National Museum of Western Art, we thought we had enough dosage of art and history for the day. We were quite tired due to the red-eye flight. We decided to check out another piece of architectural gem in Tokyo, Kenzo Tange’s St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sekiguchi.
In a November evening in 2012, we attended an architectural lecture at University of Toronto by Ryue Nishizawa (西沢立衛), one of the two principals of the world acclaimed architectural firm SANAA. In that lecture, he talked about several of his projects, including his recent projects (back then), the minimal Louvre Gallery in Lens of France and the sculptural teardrop of Teshima Art Museum (豊島美術館). At about the same time, he also finished an art gallery in Karuizawa, famous for the undulating gallery floor that resembles the natural terrain and the curvilinear glass enclosure of landscaped lightwells. Hiroshi Senju Museum of Karuizawa (軽井沢千住博美術館) was the main reason for our Karuizawa day trip out of Tokyo. Hiroshi Senju (千住博) is a Japanese painting known for his large scale waterfall paintings. He was the first Asian artist to receive a Honorable Mention at the Venice Biennale in 1995. Admiring Hiroshi Senju’s landscape paintings in Ryue Nishizawa’s landscape inspired architecture is like seeing art in a minimalist manmade forest in Karuizawa.
The museum is located out of the tourist area of Karuizawa. After getting off at the nearest bus stop, we walked a bit along a country road to reach the museum. A unique white sign greeted us at the museum forecourt.
Before seeing the white and minimalist main museum building, we passe by another interesting piece of architecture, the panel cladded visitor centre.
From the parking lot, a winding pathway led us to the entrance of the main museum building.
We entered the main exhibition space through the transparent entrance vestibule. From outside, it was impossible to imagine what surprises lie ahead in front of us.
Once inside, we were immediately captivated by the harmonious relationship between art, architecture and nature.
Walking on the gently sloping floor of the museum as if strolling on the pre-existing natural terrain of the site. Even the seating matches the curvilinear forested lightwells inside the exhibition space.
Curvilinear glass enclosure of various sizes create a number of naturalistic lightwells or miniature forests.
Walking between two lightwells felt like wandering through two art installations in a forest.
Other than the paintings by Hiroshi Senju, the lightwells of the building were definitely unique art pieces for me.
Back at the main parking lot, the sleek and dark visitor centre expresses a totally different tone.
While the main museum is all about its nature-inspired interior, the visitor centre contrastingly tells a form-driven design story.