The Garden of Fine Art 


Post Pompidou, many of the finest buildings the world over the world have been for the arts.: Now Tadao Ando, neo-modernist and darling of the lovers of.deconstructivist concrete has completed a Garden of Fine Arts in the fashionable district of Kitayama. This open air gallery offers much to inspire. it occupies an infill location and like Kurokawa's subterranean Photography Museum in Nara, the galleries are largely below pavement level. With an elevation no higher than the surrounding trees it has an informal profile reminiscent of an archeological site. The sunken gardens display painted ceramic tile reproductions of the Old Masters.  

Monet hired a landscape gardener from Japan, then newly released from isolation, to design the "Heian" style lake at Giverny. He became increasingly engrossed in the private world of his garden paradise. from the two dimensional reflections on the surface of the pond stemmed his "Waterlillies', intended to envelope the viewer on all sides and surely among 'the greatest cycles of painting. Here at Kyoto, the compliment is returned with a full scale, photo-produced ceramic tile copy of one of Monet's Waterlilly paintings immersed flat in a pond like a roll of film in a processing tank. It forms part of a collection of copies of famous works of art, more orchestrated than displayed, in this remarkable concrete cavern. The paintings in this shrine to an include the last Judgement,' the Last Supper and la Grande Jatte, Renoir's Two Sisters, Van Gogh's Cypresses, a Japanese handscroll and a Chinese river-scape. The glazed panels, we are told, use particularity light fast pigments and are faithful to the original in colour and form, based on photographic images transferred to ceramic biscuit. Each panel measures 3metres x 0.6metres and the Last Judgement needed 110 panels. The maker and the sponsors, Daikoku Electrics hope the fine art gardens of famous pictures will be enjoyed by the citizens of Kyoto who will now be in touch with internationally renowned art.

Glistening like the terraces of a rice field, it is Ando's garden which is attracting visitors. 'In the manner of the strolling gardens of the late Edo period, sweeping frontal perspectives are denied in favour of asymmetrical and incremental views. The story of the infill unfolds as one strolls like a series of glimpses at a storyboard. Visitors are made to follow a fixed route on which vistas of the garden are planes, intercepted by hard edge restraint and control produce an effect of calm and reflection on the ramp to the basement where monastic sparseness is relieved by borrowed sunlight and exotic views. There, the monumental and monochrome massing of the architecture dissolves in the polychromy of the tile paintings. The modest garden is made to seem spacious with the interplay of water, light and reflection. In the bunker, optical illusions, transparency, the sky reflected in water and a variety of vistas are contrasted with the concrete reality. As in the Waterlillies, illusions are produced by reflected light, ethereal ripples shimmer across blank planes. One moment the visitor faces white cement, the next a history painting followed by a framed tree landscape of nature.

The Garden of Fine Art is a striking intervention in the urban scene and a delightful demonstration of Ando's exhibitionism but it fuels the debate on the relationship of art and architecture and the intrusiveness of the architect's touch. The hold angular geometry exposed to harsh daylight results in deep shadows which impose themselves uncomfortably on the paintings that anyway, were created for other surroundings in another lime and different context. The subtle palettes of the paintings look impoverished when drenched in the glare of the rising sun. Just as Monet borrowed Japanese ideas to break with the conventions of his day, so Ando, at the heart of Japan's most sacred city, confidently disregards tradition and makes free with Western culture and the tenets of modernism.

Art & Architecture Journal No.40 October 1994


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