Nature prevails at the Hakone Open Air Museum

by Yoko Haruhara

Special To The Japan Times

The Hakone Open Air Museum, located on the slopes of Mount Hakone in Fuji Hakone Izu National Park, is built in a beautiful natural setting of over 70,000 sq. meters. It is perfect for a day trip from the city or an extended weekend excursion, and its expansive grounds showcase more than 100 monumental sculptures, including one of the world’s largest collections of works by British sculptor Henry Moore (1898-1986).

The museum’s latest exhibition, “Meets Art: Tamatebako in the Forest,” consists of ensembles of work by eight artists and is designed to intrigue viewers of all ages. It is organized as a tamatebako (treasure chest) of art installations with themes ranging from the mystical to the whimsical.

Entering the main indoor gallery space, you’ll likely hear visitors murmur, “Are those real butterflies?” as they encounter Eiji Watanabe’s “Garden of the Appelation 2014,” a skillful arrangement of more than 2,000 colorful paper butterflies resting on a large mirrored pillar. The work was created by cutting out images of the butterflies from picture books by the British botanist and photographer Roger Phillips.

The result is an exhibit that gives the sense of butterflies poised to take flight. Commenting on the use of Phillips’ work, Watanabe explained, “Photographs provide the most reliable images of animals and plants, creating a visual language that is instantly appealing.”

The artist’s play with forms from nature continues its theme of naturalistic encounters in another room of the exhibition, where an indoor “garden,” of clipped photographs of vegetables and flowers from botanical books, spreads past the window to the grounds beyond it.

Another exhibit, “Interfacial Sculpture” by Sachie Kimura, which is suspended from the ceiling in the main gallery, presents a striking human form made of transparent resin and mixed media. Its face and torso were created from plaster molds of the artist’s own body, and the figure wears a skirt made of cellophane wrapping.

“I make invisible things, such as our emotions and feelings, visible,” Kimura said. “When you think about somebody, your thoughts form an image of that person, but we cannot see the manifestation of that image. My sculpture is intended to capture our imagination.”

“Meets Art: Tamatebako in the Forest” is well worth a trip to Hakone. Conceptualized to inspire wonder and amazement, it engages viewers in an intimate dialogue about the relationship between nature and art.

“Meets Art: Tamatebako in the Forest” at The Hakone Open-Air Museum runs till Aug. 31; open daily 9 a.m.-5 p.m. ¥1,600. www.hakone-oam.or.jp/english