After three years of renovations and restoration, the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum is reopening.
The Main Building, the Former Prince Asaka Residence, is an acclaimed example of Art Deco design and has been designated a tangible cultural property by the city of Tokyo. It has been restored, repaired, and its facilities renovated.
The Annex, located beside the Main Building, has been rebuilt and now includes contemporary white cube exhibition galleries, a café, and a museum shop.
For the design concept for the new Annex, we turned for advice to the world-renowned contemporary artist Sugimoto Hiroshi, who is quite familiar with our museum and its setting, the Shirokane forest, which on his route when he takes a stroll. We asked Sugimoto, who has also been active as an architect in recent years, what he sees as the distinctive strengths of the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum.
"The Main Building, which originally was a private residence, is subject to certain restrictions due to its status as a designated cultural property," Sugimoto observed. "Its spaces present considerable challenges for use as a museum. It is also, I believe, a rarity among museums in Japan in being able to present its beautiful architecture and furnishings as standing exhibitions.
"In giving advice about the new Annex, I bore in mind the need for it to harmonize naturally with the Art Deco architecture of the Main Building."
The corridor connecting the Main Building and the new Annex is a key point in the new design. Emerging from the beautiful glass-walled approach, created by Mihoya Glass, from the noble Art Deco architecture of the Main Building, visitors enter the open, simple, atrium of the Annex.
"We used wavy glass in a reference to the glass door panels by Rene Lalique at the entrance to the Main Building, which are virtually synonymous with it, in an approach that subtly asks visitors what the decorative arts should be in the twenty-first century.
"When thinking about the design, I anticipated that something special would happen, but the heart-shaped marks and butterfly-shaped shadows that appear, depending on the angle at which the sunlight is striking the glass, are beyond what I had expected. Was this Neo-Impressionism or Mannerism suddenly manifesting itself in the Shirokane forest?" Sugimoto himself is delighted by the unexpectedly exquisite effect.
The glassed-in foyer of the Annex skillfully incorporates the borrowed scenery of the Main Building and the garden, so that a landscape full of associations opens out, heightening expectations for the renovation of the garden, which is now beginning.
The main galleries in the Annex are minimalist white cubes, designed as spaces where the museum's activities can expand to a new level to include exhibitions of contemporary art and craft arts as well as screenings of films and performances of music and other performing arts.
"Gallery 1 is a clean, simple space perfect for realizing a great variety of plans," Sugimoto commented.
"Gallery 2 is designed as a multifunctional space, which can be used for live events such as talks and screening films. The walls of the gallery are also suitable for displaying art works.
"We have also taken steps, by using barrel vaulted ceilings and skylights, so that the interior spaces as a whole look lovely when light is simply reflected on their walls, The effect may recall the brilliant use of skylights by the architect Louis Kahn," he suggested.
With this effective combination of an historic structure and new spaces, the Main Building and the Annex, what expectations do you have for the Teien Art Museum as it attempts to develop in new directions?
"What should an art museum be? That depends on your vision, your concept of what you wish to display, and how. Making effective use of architectural spaces: that's up to the curators. I look forward, from a long-range perspective, to seeing what develops."
We hope that even after the museum reopens, Sugimoto will continue to watch over it with his rigorous yet warm and witty aesthetic.