Japanese architect Arata Isozaki has generated a theory to analyse the evolution of the interior design of museums and art galleries. According to his theory, museums and art galleries over the past several centuries have diverged into three categories.

The first category refers to museums established by the 18th century. This type of museum’s primary purpose is to show the art collections from noble people, for instance, Louvre Museum. The features of such a museum are old-fashion coloured walls and heavy frames with elaborate decoration. The permanent collection constitutes mostly of art pieces from old masters.

Louvre Museum
National Museum of Tokyo

The second category includes museums and art galleries that exhibit modern and contemporary artwork. In these, the interior design is simple and modern. These spaces are categorized by white walls, which is why they are also called “white cubes“.

Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum

The third category is artist-centered and pays more attention to the architectural design. It is marked by two distinguishing features. The first is collaboration among artists and architects; architects generate the museum concept and design based on the artist’s style and work. This kind of exhibition space is characterised by a strong visual impact from the outside, as well as perfect harmony between the art collections and the buildings they are housed in. The second feature is founded on the concept of renovating abandoned historical buildings, including factories and train stations. These buildings have high ceilings and enormous spaces, therefore meeting the common exhibition space needs. Transforming the abandoned buildings into cultural institutions gives them new life, therefore promoting the concept of recycling and encouraging innovative ideas.

Hamburger Bahnhof

The fourth and the last category adds a new element to the museums and galleries: the “human” one. This characteristic (that isn’t part of Arata Isozaki’s theory) made its first appearance on the International Art Festival of Japan. For example, the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennale that’s located in a rural village in Nigada province of Japan. The artwork exhibited in this festival is mostly site-specific and located in the outdoor environment. Moreover, the festival is keener on the process of making artwork, compared to the final result. It is a collaborative process in which local people living nearby participate and join the artist in bringing a vision to life, other ordinary people then come and visit the art. Thus, in this instance, art superseeds its original boundaries and influences a society as a whole.

Professor Kurakuma Sumiko from Tokyo Art University called this emerging art scene “collaborative art activity” and summarised its main features:
1.    It is focused on the process and is actively present.
2.    It considers the surrounding environment and reacts to the social situation.
3.    It is open to feedbacks and influence.
4.    It attracts diverse people.
5.    It plays the role of a social activist.

Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial

After doing research about the development of Japanese museums and art galleries, I feel the enormous public need for art. This has led to the speedy, development of museums and art galleries in recent years. Art, as a tool of expression, is no longer only mastered by artists like painters and sculptors; ordinary people are getting the opportunity and confidence to express themselves with the help of art professionals.
At the same time, I have to admit that the impact of collaborative art activity is still small. White cubes and old-fashioned museums and art galleries enjoy the dominate legitimising status. People are used to be appreciators and outsiders, rather than participators.

WORDS BY LOU YILUN

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