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At the verge of the darkness
Written by Satoshi KOGANEZAWA   
Published: September 30 2008

     A special exhibition space called the Kankai Pavilion at Hara Museum ARC, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary, opened on July 27, 2008. The new pavilion was built as a venue for the display of traditional East Asian artwork that comprise the collection of Rokuro Hara (Hara Rokuro Collection), the Meiji-era businessman and the great-grandfather of Hara Museum director Toshio Hara, as well as contemporary artworks.

     The model for the exhibition room is Nikko-in guest hall, the original site of paintings used for wallpaper and ‘fusuma’ (Japanese sliding doors) at Nikko-in in Miidera Temple by Eitoku Kano which are in the Hara Rokuro Collection. It was designed by Arata Isozaki, who also built the original museum buildings. He called it a "bottomless dark space"*1and indeed the rooms are black-themed and much darker than other museums. It is natural to reduce illumination to protect antiques, but other artworks are also exhibited in Kankai pavilion, so this darkness could draw attention.

     Regarding the above, I would like to consider the following points: What does it mean to exhibit both antiques and contemporary artworks? They would not need to be exhibited within the same unless there is some benefit from doing so. This leads us to consider how much impact the "darkness" can have on contemporary art. Some may think that the white cube style is much better for exhibiting it. To see the intention, I will now describe the exhibition supervised by Mr. Isozaki, following the order of exhibits.

fig. 1 Anish Kapoor ”Void“ (1992), courtesy of Hara Museum ARC

     Opening the door, “Void“ (1992) by Anish Kapoor [fig. 1] welcomes me in front of the exhibition room. It might be difficult to imagine, but this art work floating in the darkness rapidly moves my viewpoint to a place far away in a world dominated by darkness instead of light.

     Entering the exhibition room through the automatic door on the right, I go through the entry procedure, then look at the wall where I find “ATLANTIC OCEAN Cliffs of Moher“ (1989) by Hiroshi Sugimoto. This is a black-and-white seascape in which a horizontal line in the middle separates the sky and the sea. From “Void” to “ATLANTIC OCEAN Cliffs of Moher”, my viewpoint heads for the sea from the darkness; however, the later work also shows me the limitless sea is the same as the limitlessness of the darkness. My viewpoint is drawn to the darkness by “Void”, and to the horizontal line by “ATLANTIC OCEAN Cliffs of Moher”. I keep staring at them, and then gradually lose the distance.

     The next exhibit is “Landscape of Yodo River” (1765) by Okyo Maruyama. This is a picture scroll depicting the scenery of both banks of the Yodo River; however, almost all the scene is displayed upside down from the center. This is because he painted this on a boat floating in the middle of the river.*2 It is quite bizarre that he did not use perspective and mixed up the foreground and background.

      However, this is just my impression. The people in that period must not have wondered at this kind of spatial processing. If not, the Japanese must have invented perspective in order to apply it to paintings, like Brunelleschi. Not only Okyo, but also other Japanese before the Edo period showed they did not need perspective, which means they recognized the world in a different manner from us.

      Remember paintings by children? In many cases, they have little perspective. Diverse things from small to large in different sizes to reality are blended together on flat paper. If they start to draw the picture using perspective even incorrectly, they must learn it in some way. Can anyone invent it without learning from others? The vision is not inborn but acquired by learning, and the learning depends on the epistemology of the society to which we belong. It might not be the same even in the same country.

fig. 2 Kankai Pavilion Opening Exhibition- Beyond Time, Beyond Space. (Left) Eitoku Kano "Tiger in a bamboo grove" (the 16c, Momoyama era), (Right) Tanyu Kano "Dragon and tiger" (1671, Edo-Kanbun era), (Center) Yves Klein “Blue Sponge” (1960), copyright © 2008 Hara Museum ARC

     The above might be the answer to my question. An exhibition including both antiques and contemporary art sharpens the contrast between them. This contrast includes the sex, age, race of the artists, the period and region in which the work was created, and the genre of the artworks. It tells us there are so many kinds of visions that we cannot determine which is right or wrong. This contrast is not only a matter of paintings but also of our existence as human beings which cannot be considered in one single way.

     Darkness in contemporary art - we think light is necessary to see art work if we are accustomed to the white-cube styled exhibition room. However, this is not always correct. This exhibition shows that, paradoxically, darkness stimulates and improves our vision. “Blue Sponge” (1960) by Yves Klein [fig. 2] in the center of the dark exhibition room exists as if it is a light source, and the dried appearance of ”Clematis“ (2001) by Yoshihiro Suda, placed to the lower right of ”Tiger in a bamboo grove“ (16c) by Eitoku Kano, fits in a dark place. Of course anywhere in the Kankai Pavilion is appropriate for contemporary art. ”Pumpkin” (1991) by Yayoi Kusama with its blinking black dot in a yellow base seems too colorful and improper for this place. Some artworks exert a strong presence in the white-cube. Re-assessment of what is needed for adequate display might be necessary in future. However, the attraction of the artworks born from the limitation of darkness in this exhibition causes a stir in most museums which tend to show flat surfaces and shadow when displaying diversified contemporary art.

     Finally, I would like to introduce Jan Fabre's trial at the Louvre Museum. His artwork, “Tivoli“ (2007), is displayed next to ”Red on Red“ (1969) by Mark Rothko at the Kankai Puvilion. At his one-man show, "The Angel of the Metamorphosis" from April 11th to July 7th, 2008, he selected the Flemish gallery to display his artworks (sculpture, drawing, video and installation). Thirty-nine artworks sharing the motif of earthworms and insects are displayed in front of solemn religious paintings. Recently, the Louvre Museum has often displayed contemporary artworks; however, Fabre's experimental idea surprised me when I read about it in a magazine article.

     We have problems with the format of antiques such as hanging scrolls and folding screens. Many museums mainly dealing with contemporary art do not have glass cases to display antiques, and those with antiques do not have enough knowledge to display contemporary art. There is no curator who is familiar with both areas. The Mori Art Museum once held a huge exhibition to display contemporary art and antiques ("Happiness: A SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR ART AND LIFE" from October 18th, 2003 to January 18th, 2004). Since then, no similar exhibition has been held.

     Now we have the Kankai Pavilion. The exhibition based on the collection was attractive enough; however, is further development possible, such as hold a joint exhibition with a contemporary artist? Of course, antiques will always be included. This must further strengthen its originality.
(Translated by Chisato Kushida)

Arata Isozaki "The Architecture of Kankai-an" in "Hara Rokuro Collection and The Kankai Pavilion", Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Foundation Arc-en-Ciel, 2008
Kaoru Kojima "No. 10, Landscape of Yodo River" ("catalog/comment") in "Hara Rokuro Collection and the Kankai Pavilion", Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Foundation Arc-en-Ciel, 2008

Related Exhibition

"At the verge of the darkness"
Venue: Hara Museum ARC

Last Updated on July 18 2010

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