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.
DAY 2 (1/4): YEBISU GARDEN PLACE AND TOKYO PHOTOGRAPHIC ART MUSEUM, Ebisu (恵比寿), Tokyo, Japan, 2017.06.15
On the second day, we decided to stay close to the area around Shibuya. We hopped on the Yamanote Line and went one stop over to Ebisu (恵比寿). Known as the God of Fishermen and Luck, Ebisu is a popular divinity in Japanese mythology. It was then used by Japan Beer Brewery Company to come up with the brand of Yebisu Beer back in 1890. Established their production facilities near Meguro, Yebisu Beer is one of the oldest beer brand in Japan. In the modern era, the train station and the surrounding community was named after the brewery as Ebisu. In 1988, the beer brewery were moved to a new location. The original brewery site at Ebisu was then transformed into a commercial complex consisted of office towers, retail, and museums known as the Yebisu Garden Place. The Western architectural style create a unique atmosphere, attracting young couples and the local community to dine, shop and relax.
Many tourists go to Yebisu Garden Place to visit the Museum of Yebisu Beer. We came specifically to visit Tokyo Photographic Art Museum (TOP Museum). Opened in 1995, the museum is known as the only public museum in Japan dedicated to photography. The museum has recently gone through two years of extensive renovations. Three wall display of world famous photographs marked the museum entrance at the end of a colonnade. Three exhibitions were on and we opted to see them all. The first one was “20 Year Anniversary TOP Collection: Scrolling Through Heisei Part 1”, a selection of works taken by Japanese photographers during the present Heisei era (平成). The second was Museum Bhavan by Dayanita Singh, a renowned female photographer who captures the various faces and colours of the magnificently complicated Indian society. The third was World Press Photo 17, the annual award event to compliment a selection of works by the world’s photojournalists in the past year.
The Yebisu Garden Place offers a lot of pleasant public spaces for the community of Ebisu.
Two traditional red brick buildings mark the entrance plaza of Yebisu Garden Place.
Many people arrived at Yebisu Garden Place about the same time as we did, probably going to work.
We arrived at Yebisu Garden Place in the morning at around 9am. We had breakfast at one of the cafe near the entrance of Yebisu Garden Place.
The interior of the cafe was causal and sleek.
Across from the cafe, the Yebisu Beer Museum offers visitors a glimpse of the history of Japanese beer. While a Mitsukoshi department store occupies the opposite side of the entrance square.
A barrel vault atrium and a gentle ramp frame the central axis of Yebisu Garden Place, with the Chateau Restaurant Joël Robuchon at the terminus.
We then walked under the canopy to the airy Central Square.
The design of Yebisu Garden Place is dominated by classical layout and axial arrangement.
Classical architectural elements include the colonnades that appear in a number of locations in the complex.
At the Central Square, there were benches painted with playful patterns that marked the 20th anniversary of the complex.
Yebisu Garden Place is frequented with locals. We saw a few who came dressed in traditional garments.
The Chateau Restaurant Joël Robuchon is a famous luxurious venue in the area of Ebisu.
Our main reason coming to Yebisu Garden Place was the TOP Museum (Tokyo Photographic Art Museum), formerly known as the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography.
The entrance colonnade of the TOP Museum offers visitors a pleasant approach.
Shōji Ueda (植田正治)’s Sand Dune and My Wife III (妻のいる砂丘風景III) , an iconic Robert Capa’s D-Day shots, and Robert Doisneau’s Le baiser de l’hotel de ville (Kiss by the Hotel de Ville) provide a dramatic setting for the museum entrance.
We stayed at the museum for about two hours, seeing three exhibitions including “20 Year Anniversary TOP Collection: Scrolling Through Heisei Part 1”, Dayanita Singh’s Museum Bhavan, and World Press Photo 17. The TOP Museum is a fantastic cultural institution for anyone who love photography. It offers temporary exhibitions on four levels of museum spaces.
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.
After the magnificent lunch bento at Innsyoutei, we followed the main path further into Ueno Park to reach the museum clusters. Here one can find the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, National Museum of Nature and Science, National Museum of Wester Art, as well as the largest of them all, the Tokyo National Museum. Established in 1872, the Tokyo National Museum (東京国立博物館) is the oldest and largest Japanese museum. We didn’t plan to see everything. We were a little tired from the flight, so we took it easy to explore the museum complex.
The Tokyo National Museum is consisted of several buildings: Honkan, Toyokan, Heiseikan, Hyokeikan, etc. We started with Honkan, the main museum hall. This present Honkan was designed by Watanabe Jin. The building was completed in 1938 to replace its predecessor designed by British architect Josiah Conder. The former building was severely damaged in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.
There are two main levels in the Honkan. We walked up the grand staircase to the upper level to begin our visit.
Beautiful amours of samurai and shogunate were some of the most impressive artefacts in the museum.
The “Fujin and Raijin”or the Wind and Thunder God by Ogata Korin reminded us our visit to Kyoto’s Kenninji Temple (建仁寺), the original location of the screen. At Kenninji, we saw a replica of the famous screen.
The Yaksha Generals (12 Heavenly Generals) is one of the most impressive display in the historical sculpture collection.
Architectural drawings by British architects from the 19th century reveal the popularity of Western culture in Japan during the Meiji Period.
Historical photograph of a Japanese samurai taken in 1862.
At Honkan, there is a room opens to the garden behind the museum. The room is decorated with exquisite mosaic and plastered motifs.
A traditional telephone matches well with the historical decor.
A garden of traditional pavilion and reflective pool provided some fresh air during our museum visit. Unfortunately the pavilion was inaccessible from the museum.
Apart from sculptures, paintings and photographs, historical textiles and garments also provided us a glimpse of the old Japan.
The museum shop at Honkan is beautiful designed. A gentle passageway ramps up to the upper mezzanine. Along the ramp stands a low wall of book display.
After Honkan, we walked to the adjacent Toyokan Building. Toyokan houses a few levels of artifacts and artworks from Asia and the Middle East.
The Chinese and Korean exhibits reveal the close linkage between the cultures of the Far East.
The Toyokan also contains some interesting pieces from Egypt and the Near East. After visiting Honkan and Toyokan, we had a little more understanding on the heritage of Japan, and felt it was time to check out the other museums in Ueno Park. So we exited the Tokyo National Museum, passed by a gigantic model of a blue whale in front of the National Museum of Nature and Science and headed towards the National Museum of Western Art.