Sunday, June 26, 2016

50 Hours in Tokyo: 3 Museums in a Day (Part 1)

Having been to Tokyo for more than half a dozen times in the last couple of years, I am amazed there are still new things to do and new places to visit. I found out during this random weekend when I was in town again, there were a few museum exhibitions that I wanted to visit, so I spent the whole Sunday afternoon hopping through every one of them.

My first stop was 21_21 Design Sight, an art gallery within the Tokyo Midtown complex in Roppongi at the far end of a beautiful garden. From February until early June, the museum was running an exhibition titled "Zakka: Good and Things". Zakka (雑貨), which could be translated as "Miscellaneous Lifestyle Goods" in English, may not be a unique Japanese concept but certainly most celebrated in Japan’s modern culture, which took off during the post-war industrialization period.

21_21 Design Sight building is a piece of art itself, designed by architect Tadao Ando (安藤忠雄) and opened in 2007 as home for many design exhibitions throughout the year inside this simple structure built downwards into the spacious exhibition halls in the few levels below ground level.

The exhibition was curated by Naoto Fukasawa (深澤直人), the industrial designer perhaps best known by the line of home appliances he made for Muji, in collaborations with several prominent zakka stores in Tokyo. At the entrance was an wooden cart modeled after the one merchants pushed house-by-house to sell household goods back in the Meiji era, and on it, showcasing the brand-new common household goods - kettles, brooms, buckets, rattan baskets - still in their classic form, to symbolize the timeless-ness of their design.

There were numerous sub-sections divided into several halls, some exploring the co-relations between new products and ideal lifestyle, in the context of Japan’s development, while some looking at the different aspects or elements of zakka design, from the usual household goods, to stationery products, to one influenced by foreign cultures. There’s also a small library with publications about zakka, that visitors can sit down to explore. It's not just a pure design exhibition, but one that looked deeper into the culture and philosophy that led into the development of zakka goods. I particularly love one part of the exhibition trying to explore the difference between "products you want" versus "products you need"... I suppose the attempt to blur the boundary between two has been a major driving force for new designs, that certain things can both be pretty and practical, both you want and you need.

The area upstairs right next to the entrance was turned into a pop-up shop, with a rotating list of artists and exhibitors putting some of their products on sale in a mini zakka store. On the day of my visit, the shop was operated by Roundabout, a shop known for their collection of industrial-style products. (No, I didn't buy anything that day - just in case you wondered - though I was happy to see a few of the stuff we had at home made it as part of the exhibit collection)

I made my way to the next destination, the National Art Center just across the street from Tokyo Midtown. It’s another interesting building with a curvy façade and spacious interior, running entirely on temporary exhibitions without any permanent collection of its own (something not common for art museums of this size). In these few months, they were running 2 equally exciting exhibitions at the same time, one showcasing Renoir’s work from the collection of Musee d’Orsay, and another one, displaying the work of Issey Miyake, perhaps the most influential Japanese fashion designer of our era.

If I had time I would have spent the whole day going through both, but it’s Issey Miyake’s exhibition that interested me more this time. The exhibition looked at the entire career of Issey Miyake, displaying his works from 1970s to present times. Even for me who obviously is ignorant in fashion, I was fascinated seeing all these amazing designs on exhibit in chronological order, almost being able to look through the eyes to see how his ideas came about. It was definitely a time well spent, and looking back, I did regret not able to spend more time inside and perhaps went through the whole audio introductory tour.

(No pictures allowed inside the Issey Mikaye exhibition so that's all you are going to get here - the outside of it)

21_21 Design Sight
The National Art Center Tokyo
Issey Miyake Exhibition

Check out the rest of the travelogue series: 50 Hours in Tokyo!

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