Design of the Gunma Museum of Modern Art

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Gunma Museum of Modern Art

The Gunma Museum of Modern art is located in the Gunma Prefecture in Japan. The construction of the museum took 3 years from 1971 to 1974.[i] Arata Isozaki (born 1931) was chosen to formulate the architectural designs of the Gunma Museum.[ii]

The museum is recognized as one of his most impressive forms of architecture and summarizes many of Isozaki's architectural thoughts as well as his achievements. Even today twenty years after its conception, it still holds an important significance as far as Isozaki's architectural standpoint and take on conceptual as well as modernistic architecture.

The beginnings of conceptual art are said to have originated with Marcelle Duchamp, the “Father of Conceptual Art”.[iii] Duchamp's work had a huge impact on and influenced Isozaki. It was against this background, and the fortification of 1960's conceptual art that Isozaki's play on dematerialization was manifested through the creation of the gunma museum. In addition to dematerialization, the pronounced architecture has a great emphasis on cubes for the conceptual framework of the museum.

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Isozaki placed himself in the same relative postion. With regard to the role of the object in conventional art as american conceptual artists had done in the late 1960s.[iv] Artists sought to do away with the object and reduce it to a simple dematerialized geometric entity.

His subsequent infatuation with grid surfaces would appear to have been inspired by the superstudio group(who began there activities in florence in december 1966) and sol lewitts minimalist sculptures, but it was an avenue which increased rather than lessened the dematerialization of his form. Isozaki made it clear at the outset that it was his intention to avoid all historical references and connections with prior architects. He has said in an interview,”i was thinking much more conceptually compared to richard meier's bronz developmental center in new york, I was thinking how to destroy the traditional sense of tradition and balance- those proprotions based on the humanistic system of the golden mean from greece, and the kiwari”the japanese modular system” for wood structures. Le corbusier developed proportions related to the greek golden section and kenzo tange trid to combine the kawari traditional proportions with the fibonnaci series to make proportions like le corbusier. I wish to escape from these traditional systems of proportion. My aim was to negate any meanings arising from the surface any connection with alvar aalto and gunnar aspeld were post- design.”

→ Herein lies the significance of the universal grid. Its purpose was to enhance the dematerialization of form and deny the corporeal nature of the artifact. Dematerialization became a major concern of conceptual artists in the late 1960s equally only in importance by the emphasis proccess; what it amounted to was the intention to make architecture as insubstantial, invisible, and lacking weight as the mental concepts from which the forms sprang.

This gives the appearance that the

→ museum rests lightly on the green plane of lawn in Gunma-no-mori Park. The building was not tethered to the earth, and the square frame of each cube that goes across the bottom is identical to the side and top members. There was no distinction in terms of proportion between top, bottom and sides; there was no up or down, no narrowing of the square in recognition of the anisotropy of space to cope with the weight of the building mass. The aluminum-covered cubes appear to be weightless, floating as light as helium-filled balloons.

→ The outside of his concrete cubic framework with shiny trecherous surfaces realised by the medium of reflective aluminum plates. In choosing cubes and insisting that the reinforced concrete structure have the same dimensions throughout and the beams and columns the same section, Isozaki ignored gravity.

…an abstract neoplatonic system that is unconnected with the demands of gravity pure shapes like the cube thus imply a gravity-free environment such as outer space where materials have no weight. The suggestion of weightlessness was strengthened by covering the surface of the building and hiding the structure of columns and beams under a taut skin of 2 mm thick aluminum panels, composed of identical square units. This uniform square grid is expressed unlimited extension in opposition to the cubic frame whose role was to delimit the museum.

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Buildings are of course made from heavy materials such as concrete, steel and glass, and are therefore subject to a much greater extent than painting and sculpture to the pull of gravity. Engineers have developed optimal sections, beams that are deeper than they are wide to resist bending moments, columns that are square or round to resist the different types of compression loads, and frames designed to make the most economic use of material.

→ The museums cubic thesis had it roots in the earlier Oita Prefectural library and nakayama house of 1964 and it recently resurfaced in the New oita prefectural library(1994). Subsequent designs have elaborated parts of the original gunma museum scheme giving prominence to some aspects at the expense of others. Thus the quickest and most thorough introduction to Isozaki's architecture is a visit to the Gunma museum.

Page 22

The Gunma Museum is not symmetrical, but it looks as though it should be. It is incomplete as it stands. From left to right it consists of four parts, two of which are identical A, B, C: . To complete the bilateral symmetry all that is needed is to add two more parts, A, B, C:C, and (B, A) to it. Mentally, we are prompted to supply the mirror or flip image. The presence of ‘C’ – an identical row of cubes on the right side, balancing the left side of the symmetry axis, strengthens the presumption of bilateral symmetry.

Page 23

Isozaki violated its implied bilateral symmetry and this induces an air of instability. Symmetry signifies well-proportioned, well-balanced, and it denotes a concordance of the several parts. Beauty is usually associated with symmetry and the appreciation of pattern. This was ignored with the addition of a cube to the main entrance façade.

Instead of completing the bilaterally symmetry Isozaki broke it. There were strictly practical reasons for this – the most obvious was the proximity of Masato Otaka’s 1979 Gunma Prefactural Museum of History 15 m away.

Page 20The auditorium is located on the first floor opposite the main stair. The main stair is enclosed on two sides by walls faced in reflecting marble in between which is an unpolished central strip of unreflective stone that is slightly narrower than the stair. The stair rises through the gap between two rows of 12 m cubes sandwiched between the entrance hall and administration that ploughs its way though the museum. The width of the stair is difficult to estimate because it is reflected in the polished marble walls on either side, giving the illusion that it extends infinitely.

* Exterior Design

Page 17

On the outside, the Museum of Modern Art was stripped back so that little else remained besides the grid and sleek mirror-like sheath of square aluminum panels. The erasure of anything which might add meaning was deliberate. Although the museum is intentionally neutral and its structure assimilated within the tease aluminum skin, it is not passive- rather, it urges us to question what is the nature of architecture by forcing architecture on this occasion to interrogate itself.

The use of the frame as a metaphor for a museum devoted to modern art is highly suggestive in these terms. First, it detaches the museum from the landscape and limits it, proclaiming it to be a realm set aside from the everyday while labeling it a place specifically devoted to the art experience, at the same time that it designates it a man-made space. It creates a new focus in order to direct attention to the art. In Japan the frame acts as a gesture which draws the audience into its play of illusion and, conversely, it is a means of taking the inside into the landscape. Isozaki conceived his basic cubic framework as a neutral spatial entity for works of art, with the framework setting the works apart from the surrounding park. Yet it also draws the park ambiguously inside, while emphasizing that the act of viewing a work of art is a specialized aesthetic act in that it places the work in a new artificially delimited context.

→ People tend to reject any absence of meaning – where there is nothing they often invent something in its place. The more empty and blank an object is, the more it draws in meaning from outside itself. The shimmering immateriality of Isozaki’s museum, its general emptiness and the disturbing feeling of non-existence which emanates from it, challenges the individual to add something of his own. Ultimately we, as users and viewers, supply the message and imbue objects with significance.

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Isozaki therefore magnified the frame in its role as a device for delimiting the space of a painting to the point that it included the museum. By extension, the museum can be seen as a cultural frame of art. Like the frame around a work of art, the museum alerts the visitor to the presence of art by eliminating anything that might distance the individual or lessen the intimacy of that experience.

P13-14->isozaki was thus operating on two levels; using a basic structure compromised of the gunma museums cubic framework to modulate the space additively giving rise to the primary form. At the same time, he deployed secondary ancillary or supplementary structures within the basic tructure to create multiple layers and such things as sculptor aiko miyawaki's stepped tokonoma-like object at the far end of the entrance hall.art today is no longer tied to one place, rather it is transported around the globe moving from one exhibition site to another. Once art is removed from its original context and placed inside a museum, and then migrates form museum to museum, it loses its connection with a specific time and place. Paintings and sculptures arrive in crates complete with their own frames and pedestals and little else. the art museum might then, seem as little more than a large container and recepticle, for receiving displaying, and experiencing increasingly mobile works of art. Isozaki decided that the gunma museum should operate largely as an enclosing framework with no explicit or associative iconography of its own. He reasoned back since its main function was to display works of art, the museum was a stage, and, as such , it needed the equivalent of a proscenium arch to frame the work of art in the same way the proscenium arch frames the stage drama in theater in the west or the stage of a japanese noh theatre. A cubic framework enclosing space in 3 dimensions therefore seemed a suitable metaphor for the art museum.

Squares balance the coordinates. Because the sides of a square are equal, no dimension is paramount and this produces an effect of stillness and repose rather than dynamic imbalance.


[i] “Museum information”http://www.mmag.pref.gunma.jp/english/outline.htm

[ii]“Arata Isozaki information” http://www.moma.org/collection/artist.php?artist_id=2837

[iii]“Marcelle Duchamp” http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/art-features/9842887/Marcel-Duchamp-His-influence-is-still-everywhere-in-contemporary-art.html

[iv] “Conceptual Art 60's” http://www.moma.org/collection/details.php?theme_id=10065