Art museums in Japan, tradition and modernity
Conference by Giada Ricci, museologist and scenographer. Expert for Unesco, also teaches museology.
A recent institution, the art museum was born in Japan in the middle of the 19th century, when the concepts of art and museum gradually became part of the Japanese mentality. Between 1877 and 1897 commercial and artistic exhibitions were held in the big cities and the first museums were built according to the Western model, which remained the reference until the Second World War. It is especially at the end of the 20th century that Japanese architects developed their own ways of designing and building museum space, drawing inspiration from the spatiality of pre-modern wooden architecture and the traditions of presenting paintings, calligraphy and objects in temples and private dwellings. This specifically Japanese way of reviving cultural traditions in the museum is particularly evident in the attention to nature, the location on the site and the choice of materials, the route and the articulation of spaces, the intimacy of the interior relationship -exterior and light modulation.
The Japanese practices of the art museum are thus expressed in a global vision touching the cultural history of Japan in relation to social life and human geography, associating both the history of art and aesthetics, the sacred art of Shinto and Buddhist religious spaces, the work of wood and materials, the art of gardens. Often the work of internationally recognized Japanese architects, contemporary museums are exemplary and coherent achievements, offering spaces with complex interrelationships. The combination of aesthetics and functionality, architectural and environmental quality, museographic quality and conservation of the works, expresses a modernity attached to the strongest and deepest values of the cultural and spatial tradition of Japan.