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exhibitions
ARTIFACTS

Since the late 19th century, Japanese art has been schizophrenically split into yoga (Western-style) and nihonga (Japanese-style). The latter arose as a self-conscious response to the inroads of the former. Nevertheless, when nihonga took up the challenge of Western art, it was unable to avoid borrowing some of its ideas, most notably the romantically inflated concept of the “divine” artist. But instead of Michelangelo or van Gogh, nihonga found its role models in the elite artist/craftsmen of the Rinpa school. The Yamatane Museum of Art’s exhibition What Did Nihonga Learn from Rinpa? uses 50 mainly large works to look at echoes of the school in the works of 20th-century nihonga artists. Particularly worth seeing is Kaii Higashiyama’s vast seascape Rising Tide and Gyoshu Hayami’s Falling Camellias.

Through Dec 25. See exhibition listings (Ginza/ Kyobashi/ Tokyo) for details. CBL

Giveaway!
Metropolis is offering readers ten free tickets to “What Did Nihonga Learn from Rinpa?” For your chance to see this excellent exhibition, email the following information by Wednesday, December 17, to editor@metropolis.co.jp:

1. Name; 2. Address; 3. Age; 4. Home country; 5. Last exhibition you visited

Include the text “Nihonga” in the subject line. Winners will be selected at random.

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765: Tokyo in the 1930s
763: Treasures by Rinpa Masters
761: Yokohama Triennale 2008
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By JEFF MICHAEL HAMMOND

Mutsuro Sasaki: Flux Structure

An engineer offers visions of biomorphic environments

Toyo Ito, I-Project 2005
Photos courtesy of Nacasa & Partners, Inc.

Although architects and their works ARE sometimes featured on these art pages, strictly speaking, Mutsuro Sasaki, a structural engineer, shouldn’t be here at all. Yet thanks to the talents of Sasaki and his colleagues, who know how to make architects’ fantasies come true, new possibilities for structural design are taking flight, contributing to exciting environments for the new millennium.

Currently a professor at Hosei University (and before that Nagoya University), Sasaki conducts experiments into new structural possibilities for architecture. In particular, his research concentrates on refining the mathematical principles that allow buildings to escape rigid geometric forms and take on more biomorphic shapes.

Anyone familiar with the work of Antonio Gaudi will be familiar with Sasaki’s interests, but where the Spanish architect’s approach was by necessity trial-and-error, Sasaki can, thanks to computer technology, talk of having a “modern theoretical method” to work with.

Flux Structure, general view of Gallery Ma

Outside of the university’s research labs, Sasaki has helped transform the ideas of top Japanese architects like Toyo Ito and Arata Isozaki into reality. A good example can be seen in Gallery Ma’s garden,where stands a replica of a typical flux structure: the gateway to a convention hall in Qatar, the construction of which began in 2004 but has since been suspended. The basic design works on contrasts between the long, flat horizontal beam and the rounded tree trunk-like legs. The resemblance of these pillars to organic forms is no coincidence; Sasaki and the architect, Arata Isozaki, were inspired by the way that certain plants adapt to their environment, and they decided to apply these principles to architecture.

To start off, Isozaki came up with the shape of the pillars, and Sasaki used computer modeling to test the design’s strengths and weaknesses, refining the composition until it became structurally feasible. The Qatar project is part of an ongoing attempt to get a flux structure built, after a similar plan for Florence New Station, a train station in Italy, was passed over.

Toyo Ito, Sendai Mediateque, 2000

A similar organic sensibility lies behind The I-Project, which is now under construction and which is one of Sasaki’s most ambitious developments to date. Celebrated architect Toyo Ito created a long, low free-flowing design of undulating curves resembling a range of low-lying hills. At two points in the design, the surface flips over completely, the underside becoming the roof. Again, Sasaki put Ito’s original design through his computer to make a workable plan. But even after such difficulties are ironed out and the design completed, transforming it from paper into a standing structure offers plenty of challenges.

In fact, the excessive costs of such architecture, coupled with a general slowness on the part of clients to respond to the daring concepts, mean that relatively few of these designs are actually getting the green light. It seems that for every panel on the walls documenting completed projects, there are two panels for those that never got built.

Gallery Ma usually does a very good job of making a specialist area such as architecture enjoyable for anyone with an interest. No doubt because of the nature of Sasaki’s works, there is a lot more technical data here than usual. But the photos and three dimensional models of a number of the exhibits here make it easy enough for non-architecture student to grasp the basic concept of Sasaki’s unique mission.

Gallery Ma, through July 30. See Akasaka/Roppongi exhibition listings for details.

Would you like to comment on this article? Send a letter to the editor at letters@metropolis.co.jp.