Before the Japanese emperor regained control of Japan in the mid-19th century, the Shogun exerted control over the warlords through a variety of means. The most important way was to require his lords and their families to live in Tokyo. This allowed the Shogun to keep an eye on them, keep their families hostage, and make them spend a lot of their resources keeping two households while traveling back and forth.
What’s this got to do with the museum I’m about to review? The Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum is located in Shirokane, the neighborhood where many of those lords lived. The museum itself is housed in the former Prince Asaka’s mansion, a lovely and inspired use of an historical building. Completed in 1933, the house is truly an art deco masterpiece. There are murals by Henri Rapin on the walls, gorgeous glass reliefs by Rene Lalique, decorative ironwork by Raymond Subes, and sculptures by Leon Blanchot, among others. It’s a spectacular venue. Every so often, the museum has a special exhibition of the mansion itself, opening all the rooms to the public.
Most of the time, however, the main rooms of the mansion serve as galleries for other exhibits. The current exhibit is Remembrance of Places Past: Japanese Architectural Photography from the 19th to the 21st Century. This is an exhibit of Japanese photographers who’ve photographed architecture and western photographers who have photographed Japanese buildings.
- Early photographs of palaces around Tokyo. These were designed in Western styles by European and American architects, and includes the museum itself. These were built to try to rival Western imperial powers to prove that Japan was an equal to other world/European powers, according to the gallery explanation. Curious that they thought mimicry was the best path to this, instead of glorifying or innovating Japan’s unique architectural heritage.
- Ito Chuta advocated such a development of native architecture. For his troubles he was asked by the Japanese government to go to Beijing and sketch and photograph the palaces there. He captured beautiful sepia photographs of the gates, processional staircases and sprawling courtyards. The best were his drawings of engraving details.
- Pictures of the Aomori Art Museum. The all white building blends into the snows of Aomori. The low profile elicits comparisons to a Frank Lloyd Wright creation, if he were ever to design something arctic.
- The Tokyo Archdiocese Cathedral photos captured the stunning use of light in its design and a roof vaulted in the classic form of a cross. I need to make a pilgrimage to this building.
The ticket price includes the sprawling garden which has nice sculptures, plenty of places to sit and relax, a pond, and a teahouse.
And of course, what about the café? Café Sahsya Kanetanaka has big tables by the gift shop. It has the usual over-priced coffee, but this is offset by the stuffed leather chairs that were so comfy that the old man sitting at the next table was asleep. Later a young couple sat down at the table next to him and they also joined in the slumber.
The exhibit runs through the end of the month and is free with the Grutt Pass.