Decoration and Art Deco

Tokyo has a few interesting older homes that are open to the public and many, many art museums.  My favorite place that ticks both boxes is the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum, colloquially known as Prince Asaka’s palace, and I’ve written about it before.

As a museum, Prince Asaka’s palace sometimes closes while new exhibits are being set up.  It reopens tomorrow (November 18, 2017) with an exhibit you won’t want to miss.  (See end of article for ticket give-away.)  I was fortunate to attend a sneak preview.

The exhibit, entitled “Decoration never dies, anyway”, runs from November 18 to February 25, 2018 and features the work of seven artists of diverse backgrounds and working in diverse media.  The theme is intended to demonstrate how decorations, something intrinsically human but not usually taken seriously as art, can lift and enlighten.  The house, a work of art in its own right, provides a perfect environment for the pieces, some of which were actually crafted to occupy this space.

img_app_01Prince Asaka’s palace was completed in 1933, built by the Imperial Household Agency as a joint Japanese-French endeavor.  In keeping with the wishes of the prince and his wife, Princess Nobuko, eighth daughter of the Emperor Meiji, the house was built and decorated in the Art Deco style, with much of the interior design prepared by Henri Rapin, a leading French artist and designer.  Visitors can learn more about the house, before, during or after a visit, by downloading the free app.

Even from the outside, visitors are immediately under the influence of Art Deco features, but the dominance of Art Deco is particularly striking as soon as one steps inside to meet the glasswork of famed Art Deco glass designer Rene Lalique embedded in the bronze doors.


Once inside, the first “gallery” room is the Great Hall, once the guest reception room for official entertainment by the prince and princess.  Here is sculpture by Belgian Wim Delvoye from his “Tyre and Suitcase” series, sitting harmoniously with the space and its permanent decoration, which includes a marble relief by Leon Blanchot entitled “Children Playing”.


As the leading designer for the interior, Henri Rapin’s work is present in nearly every room.  Examples include the striking Sevres white porcelain fountain that dominates an anteroom of the Great Hall.  This piece, also known as the perfume tower because the water flowing through it was often perfumed to scent the air, has become a symbol of the museum.


Another room dominated by Rapin’s influence is the small drawing room.  This room is a perfect foil for more of Delvoye’s sculpture, including a dramatic nautilus reminiscent of a Gothic cathedral.


The wallpaper in this room was hand painted by Rapin (who remained in France throughout this project), shipped to Japan and installed by Japanese craftsmen.  (How many people can say their house was signed by the artist?)  It was carefully restored in 2014.


In the Salon, with its views out into the expansive gardens, another of Delvoye’s Gothic works–this one a truck–dominates the room, complementing the many Art Deco features of the room.  While most of the light fixtures for the house are the work of a Japanese designer, for this room, Lalique glass chandeliers provide the lighting.


Next door in the dining room is a colorful sculpture in rubber by Dutch artist Nynke Koster representing Dejima (photos don’t do it justice; you’ll just have to see it for yourself).  The choice of Dejima, site of the early Dutch trading post in Nagasaki, is especially fitting for Koster, as a Dutch artist displaying in Japan for the first time.   It is placed well in the circular windows at the end of the dining room, which also features more Lalique glass lighting, a marble fireplace and wall coverings by Rapin.



In the small private dining room nearby, with its Japanese-style wood ceiling and even a tokonoma (among the few Japanese features one can find in the house), one can imagine the prince and princess sipping coffee and nibbling on toast while discussing their plans for the coming day.

Here we find the first works by twin sisters Akiko and Masako Takada (the sisters work together and exhibit as a single artist).  Their work is often in miniature, with a fair touch of whimsy as they explore perspective and scale.  Pictured here are what appear to be crumbs falling from the table

The exhibit continues on the second floor, which can be accessed via stairs leading off the Great Hall, or “back stairs” near the two dining rooms.  The Great Hall stairs are, needless to say, more elegant and dramatic, featuring marble and wrought iron.


The room at the top of the stairs, known as the family room, was used by the family when in residence as a kind of living room.  It is dominated by a sculpture by fashion designer Yoshikazu Yamagata, depicting how the gods might dress.


The Young Prince’s Bedroom, part of a suite of three rooms, features the work of Japanese artist Makiko Yamamoto.  She finds interesting windows, which she draws and then imagines the lives of the people inside, without knowing anything about them.  She then asks those people to recreate the story she has concocted about them, which she photographs.  It’s a delightful form of participatory art.


Next door is Prince Asaka’s library, with more miniature work by the Takada Twins, reflecting the nature of the room.  Visitors are not usually allowed to step into this room.  Walking in to enjoy the dark floor-to-ceiling shelves and the tiny spot-lit sculptures, some about the size of my thumb, is a real treat!


In 1947 when the house was removed from Imperial control due to constitutional changes, it was, for a time, the residence of Shigeru Yoshida when he was Prime Minister for the second time.  The Prince’s study, in the southeast corner of the house, became his office.  The room appears round, thanks to built-in corner cabinets, and contains some of its original furnishings, as well as some globally-themed lacework by Yoshikazu Yamagata.


Yamagata’s work is also featured in the Prince’s sitting room and bedroom.  The global theme seems suitable for the rooms in light of their past occupants.  (I’m still working out what to make of all the little red riding hoods!)


An east-facing veranda, overlooking the garden, is accessible only from the bedrooms of the prince and princess, which are otherwise separated by a marble bathroom containing state-of-the-art fixtures for the 1930s, including a bidet.  With its black and white checkerboard marble tiles, the veranda must be a warm, sunny spot in winter.  For this exhibit, it contains more of Yamagata’s work, including bubble wrap cleverly cut into dress shapes and placed on a bed of flowers.


More of Yamagata’s textile-focussed work is in the Princess’s Bedroom at the end of the veranda.  Next door to the Princess’s Bedroom is her sitting room, containing work on the theme of oriental carpets by Kour Pour, a Los Angeles-based artist whose Iranian father worked with hand-tied carpets.  Kour Pour’s work includes miniature carpets the size of playing cards and paintings of close up details of carpet designs.


Next we come on to a suite of rooms belonging to her daughter, the Young Princess.  Here we find more work by the Takada Twins, including a miniature built inside the fireplace and a piece that features a wardrobe that appears to be part of the original furniture of the house.  This one is not in miniature and is said to represent the four seasons.  Can you spot the seasons?


Off the hallway that runs through the center of the second floor is the North Room, a room designed to offer a cooling respite to Tokyo’s hot summer days.  Three out-sized kumade, decorated “rakes” that are lucky pieces for raking in good fortune, designed by Yamagata, dominate the room, and are sure to keep it warm through the winter.


When the museum re-opened in 2014 after extensive renovations it also got a new annex building in the rear that includes additional gallery space, a gift shop and a small cafe with garden seating.  For this exhibit, the gallery contains more works by Nynke Koster and Kour Pour as well as massive but intricate paintings by Thai artist Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook.


Act now, and you may have a chance to hear the artists speaking about their work.  Tomorrow, November 18, from 1 pm, five of the artists will be speaking (Japanese and English) about their work.  Apply to join here.  You might be able to sneak in on the spot, but the form is so easy to use that you might as well apply to ensure yourself admission.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum is less than a 10 minute walk from either Meguro or Shirokanedai stations.  Hours: 10 am to 6 pm.  Closed the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of the month.

Admission to this exhibit is JPY1,100 (half price for students junior high school and below and those over 65).  Seniors! The 3rd Wednesday of every month is “Silver Day” at all Tokyo Metropolitan museums–patrons over 65 get free admission to any special exhibition, including this one.

Giveaway:  Jigsaw-Japan is pleased to give away a pair of tickets to “Decoration never dies, anyway”.  To enter your name for the random prize draw, please use “contact” to email your name and mailing address.  Winner will be drawn on December 1, 2017 and the tickets will be mailed to the lucky winner.

© 2017 and Vicki L. Beyer
We’re thrilled if you share this; if you want to re-use in any other way, please request permission.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s