Tokyo Makes Waves; Japan's New National Art Center Is Slick, Stunning and Ecologically Sound. and It Doesn't Even Own a Single Painting
Kashiwagi, Akiko, Newsweek International
Byline: Akiko Kashiwagi
Visitors to Roppongi, Tokyo's posh entertainment district, come for a taste of the latest trends in fashion, food and fun. But increasingly, the tree-lined neighborhood is offering up opportunities for more-highbrow culture: last month the dazzling new National Art Center, Tokyo--called the Big Wave--became the latest museum to open. The spectacular building, by the world-renowned architect Kisho Kurokawa, who also designed the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, uses thousands of sheets of glass to achieve a sense of fluid transparency. It features a 22-meter-high atrium and 14,000 square meters of exhibition space--more than any other museum in Japan--and is designed to be energy efficient, incorporating special glass to cut heat and recycling rainwater. "We now have a cutting-edge art center," says its director, Hideki Hayashida. "We believe it will play an important role as the new art spot."
In keeping with its open, flowing structure, the administrators have taken the unusual--and controversial--step of shunning any permanent collection in favor of high-powered exhibits that come and go. Hayashida says it will typically host two large exhibitions simultaneously, featuring not only world-famous artists but also up-and-coming young Japanese artists. The inaugural show, "Living in the Material World--Things in the Art of the 20th Century and Beyond," showcases more than 500 works spanning the last century, from Paul Cezanne and Marcel Duchamp at the beginning to Jasper Johns and Cornelia Parker at the end. On top of that, a selection of 200 items from the Pompidou Center in Paris also opened last week.
Since the center opened, it has drawn thousands of visitors each day, intrigued by the building as well as by the idea of consuming art between shopping for Louis Vuitton and Armani. Indeed, the National Art Center arrives in the midst of Roppongi's cultural transformation. For many years, the area was known mainly for its bars, clubs and boutiques. …