Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Artsy Fartsy

The weekend started in anarchic fashion - Flick and I decided to head to karaoke on Friday night, and were absolutely delighted to discover that they were offering as much beer as you could drink and karaoke for as long as you wanted for just 2,800 yen (about 15 quid). We resolved to get our money's worth - four hours later Flick was passed out on my lap and I was determinedly croaking through every last R.E.M. song in the book (of which there were many). Finally, at 4.30am we got a call from the manager saying he was closing. Yes, that's right people, we karaoked till the break of dawn - we karaoke harder than anyone I know. Bring on the karaoke.
Needless to say, our original plan of climbing the 2,700 metre Mount Hakusan the next day sort of went out the window, so we decided to visit the 21st Century Museum of Art in Kanazawa instead. It's one of the last places on our list of things to see before we leave Japan (the others being Mount Hakusan and Hiroshima), and it didn't disappoint.
Before I talk about the museum though, I should mention Kanazawa station - it's brilliant. They've created this enormous torii (shrine gate) entranceway with an undulating steel and glass covered area behind it, finished with a stream which becomes a waterfall as it pours into the basement. I loved it. It's so great to see some really impressive modern architecture that's not afraid to do something different. Fukui has a nice new station too, but it's formulaic in comparison to say the least: just a long, white oblong box with a shopping centre underneath it. "Functional" is the word, I think.
Actually, the general architecture in Japan has been one of the most disappointing aspects of the country for me. Although there are many beautiful traditional houses in Fukui (Asahi in particular has lots), they are far, far outnumbered by awful, boxy prefabs, which look like they've been knocked up in an afternoon, along with some truly hideous office buildings. Walking around Fukui city you'd be forgiven for thinking that absolutely no thought had gone into planning or designing the buildings there, beyond making them purely functional - that word again.
Obviously, in terms of attractive modern architecture, things are slightly better in bigger cities like Osaka or Tokyo, but certainly the overall skyline is nowhere near the utopian ideas I had in my head before I came. Perhaps that's schadenfreude on my part, but the fact still remains that, despite notable and daring exceptions such as the Umeda Sky Tower, huge swathes of the buildings in the above cities are, frankly, ugly. Overhead expressways thread through drab, grey tower blocks and the concrete jungle extends for as far as the eye can see in all directions. Kanazawa, on the other hand, feels like at least some thought has gone into its design, with attractive pedestrianised shopping areas, a trendy cafe quarter, some semi-large green expanses near the centre and, of course, the Art Museum.
The Art Museum in Kanazawa is brand new - less than 2 years old - and the low, circular design really makes it stand out. The transparent walls and interior courtyards give it a really open and airy feel, and the curvy, grassy landscaping is the icing on the cake. More importantly, the art inside was just as intriguing - my favourite was an installation by the Brazilian artist Arthur Barrio, which consisted of a circular room where the floor was entirely covered in coffee grains. It was lit only by several dim lightbulbs, and there was graffiti all over the walls between huge gashes made by a hammer. It was kind of eerie wandering around in the dark, listening to the crunch of the coffee grains as you walked across them... You can see a photo of something similar here.
Another highlight was "The Origin of the World" by Anish Kapoor - a sort of weird black oval. No matter how long you look at it, it's impossible to work out if it's a hole or just a black painting - after a while it becomes quite unsettling as you feel like you're just staring into nothingness. If you want to find out the answer to the riddle, click here, although I'd recommend you see it for yourself before the secret is revealed.
So anyway, beautiful building, great art. Five Lewises out of five.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Japanese cities are ugly but you can blame the USAAF for that. Tokyo in particular is just an ugly, grey mess. Kyoto was spared the fireworks during WWII so it's a little better.

11:58 am  

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