Teaching In Socks

Visual Deception
September 8, 2009, 6:02 pm
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This weekend I went to the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art. The museum is a little far from me– about an hour and half away (one stop past Sannomiya); however, their current exhibition, Visual Deception, seemed like proper impetus to make the trip.

Tadao Ando designed the museum, so the building itself was part of the draw as well. I have been impressed with his buildings whenever I encounter them. The Contemporary Art Museum in St.Louis was probably my first cognizant exposure to Ando’s work. I also like the that a former boxer from Osaka who never received any formal architectural training has this great sense of shape and framing the amazing views his buildings create. It’s like someone gave Avon Barksdale a T-square.

Ando is perhaps most famous for his concrete construction method where many of the interior and exterior walls are simple, smooth (yet not flawless) exposed concrete slabs. He is not the first architect to use this method (so I’m told) but the way he uses it and his consistency with the material have made it a signature of his work.

play stairway to museum

play stairway to museum

The Hyogo Prefectural Museum was unlike the Contemporary Museum in many ways; namely it was bigger and used a much darker color pallet for the ceiling and walkway ornamentation (if one could call it that). A first I wasn’t sure how I felt about the building. From the exterior there are hints that it might be part of some terrible future dystopia imagined in the 80’s. Inside, however, the building is really quite elegant. There are a number of long, geometrically-magnificent spaces. The stairways range from the massive and wide forum variety to winding Escher-like narrow stairs that spiral down wall of rectangular corridor.  The darker pallet also helps to balance out large amount of light pulled from the outside. Without a dark colored ceiling the contrast between the spaces and the sight lines created would be lost.

While I enjoyed the building, the way the exhibition was highly imperfect. Apparently in Japan, and exhibition cannot sell out. This means people funnel in to the exhibit as quickly as they can. Unfortunately for me, this was a fairly popular exhibit.

more stairways

more stairways

My girlfriend and I were smart enough to buy tickets to the exhibition at the train station–who knew you could do that–and this allowed us to bypass the ticket-buying line which reports suggested was about an hour long. However, we still had to wait ten minutes in the Exhibition entrance-line. This was not terrible, however the opening room to the exhibition was extremely crowded. The room itself was large, however everyone was crammed along intermittent pieces of wall space  that held the works of art. The Exhibits signature pieces by Giuseppe Achimboldo (below) were particularly crowded.

This guys a vegetable

This guy's a vegetable

The entire scene was pretty much a foreigner’s nightmare museum experience.It hit a number of the bad museum experience pressure points;

  1. It’s lots of people who are used to being crammed into trains at rush hour, so they abandon all respect for personal space and cram around you as much as possible.
  2. It’s a crowd that skews slightly on the elderly side, so they are moving as slowly as possible.
  3. I am the tallest person, so if I’m in front, I am the one ruining it for everybody–as such I am forced to observe from the back of the pack
  4. There’s around round of “the new” flu  going around (perhaps this is swine flu II, I don’t know) so everyone is either wearing masks that don’t work or sneezing on people wearing mask.

It was a tad bit hellish.

After a few minutes I made the executive decision to forgo context and simply move to ahead of the crowd when possible and try to intimately view a few pieces of art rather than try to see everything trudging along with the mases.

It was a good decision. There were several rooms dealing with the Dutch and French master who developed and played with the depiction of depth and perspective. This was followed room tying in Japanese scroll and Ukiyoe printing into the development of visual illusions and depth before finally taking off with the modern pieces.

The exhibit had one a the more interesting collections of Magritte’s work that I had seen and I really did enjoy, what I perceive to be, his sense of humor about perception and reality. The highlight of the exhibition for me was a piece by Patrick Hughes, which depicts a Venetian style sea city. The piece is painted on a 3D canvas, where the triangular blocks of wood just out from the wall towards you. The scene is painted in such a  way that as you move the depth and lighting changes altering what you see and creating the illusion of an actual cityscape.

Overall the exhibit was pretty great. The modern pieces at the end were a nice pay-off. The crowds however did little to change my perspective that museum visits in Japan should be remain rare occurrences.