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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Yoshio Taniguchi

D.T. Suzuki Museum, Kanazawa, Japan, 2011, Yoshio Taniguchi
Years ago there was a cute "preacher joke" involving KISS. I won't repeat it here, but the letters have come to be an abbreviation for "Keep It Simple, Stupid." Oriental art lovers seem to admire this quality greatly. There has always been a tendency in Oriental art, especially the Japanese variety, toward Minimalism. That's especially the case when Oriental artists study abroad, as happened between the two world wars. Their styles and content change, becoming more westernized, but at the same time their minimalist tastes tend to mitigate the worst excesses of Western art. We see this in the work of Japanese artists such as Fujishima Takeji, Tsuyoshi Ozawa, Kaii Higashiyama, and others from this period. In admiring such works, we often take little note of the museums housing them, and with good reason. In designing them, the same minimalist aesthetics also have been absorbed by many Japanese architects. In an age when museum architects routinely design works-of-art buildings, whether intentionally or not, they tend to compete with the art they house. I won't name names, but I think most of us know whom we're talking about.
The Suzuki Museum illuminated, Yoshio Taniguchi. Minimalist architecture
tends to benefit from changes in seasons and illumination more than other styles.
Yoshio Taniguchi
Yoshio Taniguchi is a Japanese museum architect. Though it would be an injustice not to consider his museums as works of art, they are of such deeply restrained design as to lead the visitor to feel a sense of walking into a 1970s era Minimalist painting. Thus, the art, even that which is, itself Minimalist, is accentuated like an elegant chocolate truffle on a white platter. Taniguchi was born in 1937, the son of a modernist architect by the same name. He was trained both in Japan as well as Harvard, an associate of Walter Gropius, a major influence in his style. If you're going to be a museum architect, there's nothing like starting at the top. In 1997 Taniguchi won a competition involving ten other internationally known architects for the redesign and remodeling of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
New York's MoMA from the street--modern but not minimal.
Best known for his Japanese museums, the MoMA commission was Taniguchi's first work outside his homeland. As any architect will tell you, re-designing an existing structure is much more difficult than starting from "scratch" in creating a new building. As a result, despite his Minimalist ideals, his newly designed MoMA is not what anyone would consider Minimalist. Aside from the fact that the streets of New York simply do not lend themselves to anything minimal, the complex existing structure demanded a design complexity far beyond anything the Oriental aesthetic might allow. Like virtually all museums of long standing (in this case as far back as 1939), the MoMA is, in fact, a complex in every sense of the word.

Taniguchi's Minimalist instincts are plainly evident in this aerial illustration
of the MoMA complex. However, it's not as simple as it looks from above.
From the street, the Minimalism is minimal.
First designed by the famed American architect, Phillip Johnson, the museum was refurbished in 1958 following a fire, then doubled in size in 1983 with the addition of a 53-story museum tower. Pulling all this together, Taniguchi had his work cut out for him. The design work began in 1997. The remodeling was not completed until 2006. It added an entrance for school groups, a 125-seat auditorium, an orientation center, workshop space for teacher training programs, study centers, and a new, larger lobby with double-height views into the Sculpture Garden. As the mass of what's deemed to be Modern Art grows, the museum now had plans to add another fifteen thousand square feet of exhibit space to be completed during the next ten years.

Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, Toyota, Japan, 1995, Yoshio Taniguchi
--minimal to the point of austerity.
Taniguchi's Sea Life Park, Tokyo, 2000
In Japan, Taniguchi's museums include the D.T. Suzuki Museum (top), and the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art as well as Tokyo's Sea Life Park. Each is stunning in its own, Minimalist way--the Suzuki is contemplative, the Toyota so restrained as to seem otherworldly, while the Sea Life Park, with its emphasis on transparency, is daring almost to the point of intimidation. Though the Western influences of the Bauhaus, and what's come to be known as the International Style are present, it's as if they've been translated into Japanese. Today, Taniguchi has just completed construction in the museum district of Houston, Texas, his first free-standing, designed-from-scratch, building in the United States, the Asia House for the Texas branch of the Asia Society (below)

Asia Society, Texas Center, Houston, Texas, 2014, Yoshio Taniguchi.


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