A new home for world-class art

by Victoria James

With the opening of “The Romantic Tradition in British Painting, 1800-1950,” The Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art seems set to take its place as an art institution of international standing.

Opened just 10 months ago, the Hyogo museum’s 27,500 sq. meters of exhibition space makes it Japan’s second-largest art venue, after the cavernous Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art.

What’s more, the museum, designed by renowned Osaka-based architect Tadao Ando, is arguably a work of art in its own right. Built at a cost of 30 billion yen, the complex features Ando’s characteristic juxtaposition of thick concrete walling and inner, light-filled spaces.

The architect has described his goal in such public commissions as being “to create a place for the individual, a zone for oneself within society. When the external factors of a city’s environment require the wall to be without openings, the interior must be especially full and satisfying.”

The Hyogo museum showcases this strategy. It presents an initially forbidding, featureless facade to the visitor approaching from nearby train stations, but turns an immense glass frontage to the sea; light is funneled down to inner spaces by glass-roofed atria and an open central staircase.

All that space is well used. The complex’s many public amenities include a 250-seat cinema for weekend screenings, two large studios available to professional and (at no charge) amateur artists, a lecture theater and an Art Information Center, part library and part multimedia research center.

Selections from the museum’s collection of more than 7,000 pieces, especially strong in the areas of print and sculpture, both Japanese and foreign, are rotated in the Permanent Exhibition galleries. Also impressive is the small but brilliantly conceived interactive display, “Form in Art,” which gives the visually impaired the chance to get hands on with sculpture by Henry Moore and Jean Miro, among others, and new works by Mitsushima Takayuki inspired by the sculptures. (Blindfolds are available for sighted visitors wishing to try out the display.)

The Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art was conceived as part of a large-scale redevelopment of the waterfront area of Kobe after the devastation caused by the 1995 earthquake. More than a symbol of the rebirth of one city, though, this superb cultural center is an asset to the entire Kansai region.