Sunday, January 21, 2007

The National Art Center - Japan’s Newest and Biggest Art Museum

TOKYO, JAPAN - The National Art Center, Japan’s newest and biggest art museum, opens with the exhibition Living in the Material World – 'Things' in Art of the 20th Century and Beyond, on view through March 19, 2007. The 20th century was an age of materialistic civilization centered on cities. The experience of living in a world surrounded by abounding material 'things,' huge quantities of manufactured goods and commercial products, was something completely new to human beings. Artists who sensitively responded to this new situation began to incorporate material 'things' into their artistic expression in various forms.

This exhibition introduces diverse forms of 20th century art expressed through bold experiments of artists with spirit of adventure. It explores the fields of design, craft, and architecture as well as the fine arts. In addition to the works of art in the collection of the national art institutions, this exhibition brings together more than 500 valuable works of art from all parts of the world, with the generous support from major museums in Japan and abroad.

Large-scale installations will be created by seven important artists from Japan and overseas, who pursue cutting-edge contemporary forms of artistic expression. This unprecedentedly ambitious and comprehensive exhibition, presented in a huge exhibition space measuring 6,000 square meters, will attract art communities both domestically and internationally.

With its striking facade of waves of glass, The National Art Center, Tokyo, need not beg to differ. A bold move to Roppongi away from the cluster of national and metropolitan-run institutions in Ueno, the new museum encompasses an astounding 48,000m2, making it the largest in Japan.

With no collection of its own, the National Art Center, Tokyo’s 12 exhibition rooms will be divided between shows organized by nationally recognized art associations (ten rooms) and those used for curated exhibitions (two rooms). Alongside the state-of-the-art exhibition spaces are a restaurant and three cafés, a shop, an auditorium, three lecture rooms and a public art library containing 50,000 publications, largely art exhibition catalogues. Also, as part of their “outreach to the public,” the museum will offer educational programs, lectures, gallery talks, internships and volunteer programs. For 2007, the 43 volunteers and ten graduate-students and museum-professional interns have already been selected.

The building is a work of art in itself. The eye-catching design by Kisho Kurokawa is best appreciated from the Roppongi Hills observatory. With a “mori no naka” (in the middle of the woods) theme, the architect based the curved frontage on computer-rendered rhythmic images formed by mountains and the seashore.

Inside, the atrium blends two huge conical pods with natural wood flooring, andon-style lights that illuminate a bank of slatted walls, and leafy views of Aoyama Cemetery. It’s a breathtaking welcome that befits the museum’s original concept as a hirakareta bijutsukan—a museum opened to all.

With more than 30 million residents, this is the most populous metropolis in the world—and its pockets are deep. In 2005, the three most-attended museum exhibitions in the world were all in Tokyo, according to Art Newspaper’s annual survey, with the Hokusai exhibition at Tokyo National Museum attracting more than 9,400 visitors a day, the largest number on record.

Since the national museums were semi-privatized in 2001 to make them responsible for generating a profit, there has been an effort to offer crowd-pleasing shows. The museum’s target is 1.5 million visitors in 2007.

And don’t forget the more than 240 art associations in Tokyo alone vying for rental space to exhibit their members’ works. In fact, The National Art Center, Tokyo is already booked-up for the next five years. From April 2007 through March 2008, 69 art associations will exhibit there, among them—in a coup for the new museum—the coveted Nitten Exhibition, the largest in Japan, until now held at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum in Ueno. The museum is also another development in the corporate effort to reinvent Roppongi as something more than a nightlife district. It’s within walking distance of both the Mori Art Museum at Roppongi Hills and the newly rebuilt Suntory Art Museum at Tokyo Midtown, which will open on March 30, and the three have formed an alliance called Art Triangle Roppongi, through which they hope to coordinate future events. It’s a smart collaborative move promoting the area as a “cultural hub.”

The new museum’s inaugural exhibition, “Living in the Material World: ‘Things’ in Art of the 20th Century and Beyond,” will run January 21 to March 19 and is a practical compilation of more than 500 works from about 280 artists, borrowed from several museum collections in Japan and abroad, including The Museum of Modern Art in New York. The show explores our material world, a timely commentary on the way art has reflected our insatiable desire for “things” and the rise of “global hyper-capitalism.” It includes well-known works like Marcel Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel (orig. 1913) and Tom Wesselmann’s Bathtub Collage #2 (1963).

In tandem will be the tenth anniversary exhibition of the Bunkacho (Agency for Cultural Affairs) Media Arts Festival, titled “The Power of Expression, Japan” with works of manga, anime and entertainment art (Jan 21-Feb 4). This will be followed by an exhibition of works borrowed from the Centre Pompidou in Paris, titled “Paris du Monde entier: Artistes étrangers à Paris 1900-2005” (Feb 7-May 7).

Brand new and cool, but old, wise and resourceful, The National Art Center, Tokyo looks like a big wave about to make quite a splash.

The National Art Center, Tokyo, 7-22-2 Roppongi, Minato-ku. Tel: 03-5777-8600. Open 10am-6pm (until 8pm on Fridays), closed Tuesday. See exhibition listings for details. Visit :

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