An avid visitor to Kyoto may look forward to three unmissable, sparkling jewels: a taste of traditional and old Japan, temples and shrines, and gardens. With a long history tracing back to 7th century AD, Japanese gardens have always laid the perennial ground for serenity, harmony and beauty in accompanying the essential facets of Japanese life: religion—surrounding temples and shrines; home—sitting as an inner patio; and food—providing a welcome view of the outside while you enjoy a sumptuous meal from the inside. Museums may also share this cordial linkage between interior and exterior, and a particular one in the center of Kyoto’s oldest district, Gion, lies the Forever Museum of Contemporary Art, a true epitome of not only a solid structure blended with soft greenery, but also of shades of history intertwined with the art of the modern era.
The FMOCA newly opened in June 2017, right on the very grounds of the Gion Kobu Kaburenjo Theater built in 1913, which stages the much applauded Miyako Odori dance performances. The geisha district of Gion could not have been a more illustrative setting for this theatre as you enter the wide Hanamikoji Street, flanked by old, wooden ochaya teahouses, bars and upscale Japanese restaurants, reminiscent of ancient samurai movie settings, as though the click-clack steps on the stone slab pavement by maiko girls in striking kimonos tease you irresistibly to a nice cup of warm saké.
What makes the FMOCA a unique venue for art and a long-lasting appreciation of its sculptural garden is that due to the ancient architectural structure of the theatre, the flooring consists of traditional tatami mats and walls in shoji and fusuma wood-and-paper screens, which act as room partitions. The tatami mat flooring apparently indulges the visitors to view the artworks from a low eye-level position or while seated. There are, likewise, corridors that allow viewers to sit, rest, and gaze at the marvelous Japanese garden outdoors—all encompassing the innate Japanese preference for fusing art with nature.
The Japanese garden is a beautifully pruned landscape of seasonal trees and plants, stone pathways, and fishponds with huge, colorful carp circulating the stepping rocks like silent poetry. In autumn, the spectacular scenery is a perfect gallery of cheerful prisms surrounding the dark wood Japanese traditional architectural style of the museum.
For the inaugural exhibition of the Forever Museum of Contemporary Art, an exclusive collection of world-celebrated artist Yayoi Kusama’s works in Yayoi Kusama: My Soul Forever have been on display and are on view until February 25, 2018. The masterpieces include early sketches and nature paintings from the 1950s and 1960s, which served as the starting point of Kusama’s blossoming career. The once overlooked and ostracized idealist who garnered fame after escaping Japan from a much tormented childhood to exercise her strong artistic desires in the U.S. is now loved by so many who are mesmerized by her bold and eye-catching colors, polka dots and abstract kaleidoscopes of organisms, shapes, and elements of nature. More identifiable by her pumpkin variations, Kusama’s gigantic yellow pumpkin also greets you when you arrive at FMOCA from the bustling street of Hanamikoji. The museum is proud to house 352 of Kusama’s 372 print works collected over 30 years, which also include Light from the Ends of the Earth (1950), Infinity Nets (1963), the provocative installation A Boat Carrying My Soul (1989), Between Heaven and Earth Exhibition (1991), My Solitary Way To Death (1994), and Yellow Trees (1992) among others. Other artworks by various artists, such as Joseph Beuys, Anselm Kiefer, Richard Long, Tatsuo Miyajima and Oscar Oiwa can also be viewed.
At once, the sensation of the old and modern is felt and continues to pull you through the exhibition rooms, displaying many unique pieces of Kusama not commonly released to the public. Walking barefoot or shoeless on the tatami mats and smelling the natural timber walls transmit a light and cozy feel, and somehow rightfully cradle Kusama’s passionate spin for bright and vivacious interpretations swarmed with themes of nature. Climbing up to the second floor leads you to a breathtaking wall-to-wall perspective of the sculptural Japanese garden that certainly puts your mind at ease and in solemnity after traversing the flurry in Hanamikoji Street. There is a conjugal bond between FMOC’s and Kusama’s conceptual theme of “forever”—both enveloping perpetuity and consistency that, without doubt, leaves a very delectable and luscious Kyoto memory.