Architectural Funhouses

“Where Is Architecture? Seven Installations by Japanese Architects” at the National Museum of Modern Art.

poster for

"Where is Architecture? Seven Installations by Japanese Architects" Exhibition

at The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
in the Chiyoda area
This event has ended - (2010-04-29 - 2010-08-08)

In Reviews by Randy Swank 2010-06-04

For several years now, architecture has been one of the most crowd-pleasing genres in the Tokyo museum circuit. What used to be a very technical and esoteric discipline for professionals has turned into an exciting source of fun. Forget the boring exhibitions of old: going to an architecture show now is akin to entering a funhouse in which the usual drawings and models are overshadowed (sometimes replaced entirely) by pictures, videos, computer graphics, even small- and big-scale reproductions of actual buildings. They are hands-on laboratories where the public can experience first-hand all the technical, logistic and artistic work that goes into a project.

Ryuji Nakamura, 'shortcut' (2007)

At the same time, there are people who think that, instead of using architecture in order to attract huge crowds, museums and galleries should concentrate on art. Maybe that’s why there is relatively little traditional architecture on display at the aptly named “Where Is Architecture?” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.

We start with Ryuji Nakamura’s intricately built grid-like structure which vaguely resembles a model for a building (or a beehive, or whatever your imagination may suggest) but leaves us in the dark about its purpose (lack of explanation throughout the exhibition is a particularly sore point).

Hideyuki Nakayama’s installation – a couple of “magic doors” limiting an area otherwise covered with assorted textile samples and Lilliputian chairs – is closer to conceptual art than architecture. The same thing can be said about the space Hiroshi Naito has organized: a dark room with, at the center, an immaterial “carpet” (made of 200 red lasers) which turns into a three-dimensional space whenever someone walks in. Certainly playfulness and the attempt to emotionally and sometimes even physically lure the audience into the works is a common characteristic of many installations.

Toyo Ito, 'The New Deichman Main Library Competition in Oslo, Norway' (2008-2009)

Ironically, the closest example we have of traditional architecture (Ryoji Suzuki’s huge model of a residence) is also the less accessible by the public. In the end – and not surprisingly – the most fun, most attractive and all-round best work is Toyo Ito’s. His 2006 monster exhibition at the Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery was one of the best shows of the last few years and here he keeps entertaining and educating the public with a maze-like environment into which he has crammed all the main techniques he has used in the last years for his projects: from continuous three dimensional tubes to walls curving at cross points and continuous carved arches, all in the name of “organic space.”

Randy Swank

Randy Swank. Escaped from his home country in 1992 and found refuge in Japan, where he promptly found a job teaching people how to shout HELP! and avoid being robbed on foreign buses. Since 1997 he has been unhealthily active in the mail art network, unleashing on the unsuspecting public, among other things, the Treatise of Pataphysical Anatomy and the international fake political campaign poster project. When not running after his two kids and from his wife, he is usually busy making zines (one of them is about Tokyo and all things Japanese), writing for high- and lowbrow magazines, and exploring Tokyo. You can read his uncensored, Gonzo-like adventures in Artland at The Randy Reviewer. » See other writings

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