Through the Glass Menagerie: Gaze into the Art and Architecture of Tomorrow at the Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art

por: Ralph Vazquez

 ”With Yuko Hasegawa, chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, we collaborated in the planning of an exhibition involving both art and architecture which is based on the theme ‘Architectural Environments for Tomorrow’. Architecture and art serve as a form of mirror, reflecting an image of the times and society which we are heading towards.Simultaneously, we believe that these serve as an important process in the creation of the coming age. For this reason, we expect each of the participating artists to put forward an architectural/artistic proposal aspiring towards a new kind of sensation, philosophy or experience. When we speak of a new era, we think it will be of one which is diverse and believe that architecture or art plays a major role to provide a world-model in which various values and dynamic relationships are able to coexist with each other. In this vein, we will not show each work in this exhibition distinctly, instead, as much as possible, we aim to display them all together, without walls coming between them. We hope to see the entire museum functioning as an expression of diversity.”

-Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, Organizers AET

6,000 years ago, the advent of the rudimentary city, along with the invention of written language had transformed the way humanity ran along its course in history, thus our climb along the inclined plane of evolution became seemingly inextinguishable. Today, with the rise of computerized technology humanity has taken matters further, permitting ourselves to undertake enterprises before only appreciated in the depths of our individual and collective imaginations.

Already past the threshold of the 21st century we must ask ourselves, what will our future look like? How are we to ameliorate the formidable challenges that are manifest through study of our demographics, and the impact we have on planetary ecology and its resources? Some visionaries have taken to the arcane world of cutting edge software, avant-garde modeling techniques, extracting from nature its core mathematical algorithms, and computer models, to transform and to revamp the old canons of the sciences of architecture and design.

A select group of these types of visionaries also draws from the possibilities discussed in art, enriching conversations of form and function and injecting it with new aesthetic exuberance and prowess, which also seeks to make the new not just effective but wholesome and beautiful at the same time.

Recently this exhibit in the Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art (MOT), whose whole title is Architectural Environments for Tomorrow — New Spatial Practices in Architecture and Art, explored the work of some of these visionaries, with works ranging from established names in architectural design, like the case of Frank O. Gehry (b. 1929, United States), who exhibited his models, documentations of creative process and photography of his Eight Spruce Street Building in New York City. Gehry is known for using powerful airplane design software for creating his streamlined buildings, and the process he shared with us clues us as to how his method unfolds, from a scribble, to models, to the computer and then to the construction site.

Another of the showcased architects is Antón García-Abril (b. 1969, Spain) who demonstrated a very peculiar method for creating habitable spaces – he creates a rough rocky shell around strategically placed hay bundles, the shape is then sawed open and its plant interior eaten out by a very helpful ox. The final result in García-Abril’s experiment is titled Trufa, literally a habitable hollow boulder that is a holiday home for the architect; a modular and yet telluric living space that is transformed by the choice of large glass pane window openings and Modern furniture and amenities.

For more about García-Abril’s compelling process visit this site:

Filmmaker Roland Hagenberg (b. 1955, Austria) and architect Hiroshi Hara (b. 1936, Japan) realized an interesting interview project. The director filmed a series of lectures by Hara, who talked about his process, his projects and the nature of architectural design. The interviews were projected wall sized so that onlookers could appreciate the lecture while also viewing the installations and presentations of the other exhibitors in the gallery.

Among the artists invited we find a broad variety of approaches to architecture, design and crossbreeds between the two. El Anatsui (b. 1944, Ghana) (and one of my personal favorite artists) created a work, which takes his signature art-making process to a whole other level – in a work titled Garden Wall (2011) he creates the feeling of engulfment by a composition of his faux-textile mixed media structures that literally pours down the wall and onto the gallery floor. The installation is massive and truly beautiful; Anatsui again binds our attention on the analysis of the craftsmanship, and takes us on a journey.

El Anatsui (b.1944, Ghana), Garden Wall (2011) Photo © DAICI ANO

Contrasting Anatsui’s approach with volume, the artist Haruka Kojin (b. 1983, Japan) created an unusual artifice with the use of circular lenses of various measurements. The work, titled Contact Lens (2009) resembled a curtain which divided the main exhibition gallery. It came down from the ceiling providing a teleidoscopic view of the room and the works included in it – as a creature with compound eyes would see the space if it were flying around.

The artist and filmmaker Wim Wenders created a 3D film titled If Buildings Could Talk… (2011), and in it he provides a series of reflections on the desires of the architects of the Rolex Learning Center, their names being Kazujo-Sejima (b. 1956, Japan) and Ryue Nishizawa (b. 1966, Japan) of the architecture firm SANAA, of the building actually giving comforting assurances and nurturing its visitors. The soothing voice of the “building” and a series of vignettes of it in use by myriad visitors of many cultural provenances create the illusion of a multipurpose, multicultural and an interestingly multilateral edifice.

The artist duo composed of Doug and Mike Starn (twins, b. 1961, United States) presented documentation of their project Big Bamboo (2008) created on the rooftop of the Museum of Metropolitan Art in New York City. The accumulation of bamboo poles and their unions create a structure that rises like gigantic patch of grass which reaches for the sky, like every other building in the city. At MOT photographs that illustrate the process of construction over a period of 6 months were displayed.

Mike & Doug Starn (twins, b. 1961, United States), Big Bamboo (2008)

The exhibition also included landscape architects, and among these we saw the work of Petra Blaisse (b. 1955, United Kingdom) and Piet Oudolf (b. 1944, Netherlands). The work of Blaisse oscillates between textiles and landscape design and included in the exhibit at MOT were a series of carpets with patterns inspired by foliage. Garden Carpet was a project by Blaisse for the Seattle Public Library, where she integrated landscaping and interior design into a dynamic exchange of textures and environmental design. Oudolf presented his sketches for landscape design, which are actually very interesting color compositions that he later translates onto the design space choosing plants by color and texture. An impressive process, Oudolf broke it down for us to see and be able to follow through from sketching to the final layout and landscaping schematic.

The exhibition, which lasted until January 20 of this year, is the product of the second Tokyo Art Meeting – an annual forum oriented towards a more consistent collaboration among artists, architects, designers and multiple other cultural practices in Japan and abroad. In the years since MOT’s inception this institution has procured a place among those institutions who contribute to policy-making in the arts in Japan. Having this scope and continuing to feed a discourse of artistic collaboration is surely to cement them as a laboratory for new and more engaging technologies for showcasing art, and they may leave us in the States in need of revision. It is precisely this type of institutional approach we need in the West, to propel innovative concepts to finer tunes, and to create a truly intellectually stimulating art circuit – not just oriented towards feeding the market but feeding the market well.

The exhibition was closed two days after I had the chance to visit the museum, but I still wanted to publish a review for it because so much of what I saw in the museum and so much of what I saw the museum is doing is so important, not just for the reasons that I mentioned above, but because we need to know how to build a better tomorrow, and a lot of the people that were included in the show had some pretty good ideas. The complete list of artists, architects and organizations comprised reads: AMID.cero 9, El Anatsui, The Ministry of Culture of The Kingdom of Bahrain, Petra Blaisse, Doug & Mike Starn, Sou Fujimoto, Antón García-Abril, Frank O. Gehry, gelitin, Hiroshi Hara + Roland Hagenberg, Akihisa Hirata, Junya Ishigami, Toyo Ito, Christian Kerez, Haruka Kojin, Tetsuo Kondo, Luisa Lambri, Office Kersten Geers David Van Severen, Piet Oudolf, Smiljan Radic, Matthew Ritchie with Aranda╲Lasch, Daniel Bosia & Arup AGU, Kazuyo Sejima & Ryue Nishizawa from SANAA, Matthias Schuler & Transsolar, selgascano, Studio Mumbai, Fiona Tan, Wim Wenders. If inspired by this article, look into their work, if you appreciate design and art, and believe in their conjugation you will most definitely find something that you absolutely love.

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