There is only one difference between a long life and a good dinner: that, in the dinner, the sweets come last.
Tokyo is quite blessed with over fifty museums scattered all over the metropolitan area, but there is, perhaps, only one that is dedicated to art and established by a confectionery company. After all, when novelist Robert Louis Stevenson said, “in the dinner, the sweets come last,” we also remember the saying that we save the last for the best. And, there is nothing more appropriate than concluding an art exhibition visit with a delightful cup of tea and patisserie.
The Yoku Moku Museum , tucked in the residential neighborhood of Minami Aoyama in Tokyo, is a unique establishment that has extended its hospitality from its confectionery customers to fervent enthusiasts of art. Yoku Moku is one of the most renowned and prestigious confectionery companies in Japan, established in 1969. Its name was derived from a small town in Sweden, Jokkmokk, that is surrounded by lakes and forests, and exudes an atmosphere of warmth and homeyness, consequently, providing the same inspiration to Yoku Moku homemade sweets that aim to deliver happiness to its customers. The company’s sweets are popularly known for its tubular-shaped “Cigare” cookies filled with the richness and flavor of butter, which concocts a crispy, light mouthfeel and a delicate melting in the mouth. Furthermore, in place of granulated sugar that is usually utilized in French confectioneries, Yoku Moku concentrates on the local “johakuto” or Japanese white sugar characterized by moistness and a strong sweetness. Today, the success of its confectioneries sweeps across the globe, with shops in the USA, Canada, and Asia.
The idea of erecting a museum arose from the museum director Toshiyasu Fujinawa, an avid art collector, and son of the company founder Noriichi Fujinawa. Around 1970, he first encountered Pablo Picasso’s ceramic works, which had struck him with irresistible charm and humor, and at the same time enchanting luster, shine and texture, quite parallel to Yoku Moku sweets. Picasso’s perennial passion and devotion in challenging himself with the creative artistry of his works had inspired Fujinawa with the same dedication towards the confectionery brand; thus, he gradually accumulated a collection of the artist’s ceramic creations. As a result, the Yoku Moku Museum opened to the public in October 2020 with its exhibition, Picasso: Life on the Côte d’Azur and proudly displays approximately 100 ceramic pieces among 500 collected works by Picasso, one of the largest and most comprehensive collections in the world.
The museum building, designed by architect Yoshihiro Kurita, is based on the inspiration of the Chanoyu (tea ceremony) that teaches the philosophy of a mountain house built in the city. By abandoning the outside world and instead, constructing a tearoom in the interior, one enjoys the calmness of a tea ceremony amidst the hustle and bustle of city life, like a hermit who dwells in the mountain village and embraces a “joyful spirit” in a quiet life. This reference reflected the small village of Vallauris by a mountain side in Côte d’Azur, France, studio home of Picasso’s ceramics. The structure consists of two stories, a basement, and a courtyard where natural light, wind and nature can be abundantly enjoyed. Adhering to Picasso’s ceramics and baked confectionery, pottery materials were used, as well as heat-resistant bricks for the floors and walls, similar to pottery kilns. The roof is also designed with deep blue traditional barrel-type roof tiles of Côte d’Azur. The similar blue tiles are evident in the exterior walls outside the café and museum entrance. Although the basement exhibition space is rather dim to protect the ceramic works and also allow them to surface conspicuously from the dark background, the second floor suddenly beams with soft, natural light peeking from the veranda with a sofa and through the surrounding windows, particularly through horizontal slats above the walls that produce interesting shadows. Ceramics are also employed in the signages for directions to the museum, café, and restrooms. The Café Vallauris is located on the first floor, serving the company’s selected special delicacies. Beside it, there is the museum shop, a library of art books, and a big reading table. The museum also holds art lectures, gallery talks, artist’s workshops, educational programs, and other events.
The current exhibition, running until September 26th this year, is expected to launch two more reruns in the near future. The basement exhibition space begins with three sections. Section I, Metamorphosis of Everyday Objects introduces Picasso’s ceramics produced in the Madoura factory founded by potters Georges and Suzanne Ramié. The displayed dishes, bowls, pitchers, and other vessels depict Picasso’s favorite animal, bird, fish, floral, and facial motifs. Section II, Transformation of Artistic Life illustrates the development of Picasso’s works after World War II in the French Riviera where he also formed important relationships with friends, family, and local potters. The city of Vallauris increasingly became an active site for ceramic production. Section III, Turbulent Times presents, apart from earthenware, oil paintings, etchings and photographs, including an etching of the bullfight scene that also appeared in Picasso’s renowned masterpiece Guernica. This work captured the tragedy of the 1937 German bombing of the Basque country and evoked Picasso’s call for peace and reconciliation. Finally, the second floor houses the permanent collection of Picasso’s ceramic works. Fully embracing the natural light, the fifty-four breathtaking ceramic plates on the three walls shimmer as the main highlight of the exhibition, perfectly describing the phenomenal artist’s playful imagination and talent.
After a thorough grasp of the show, a relaxing cup of tea or coffee with Un Grain’s special pastry at the museum’s Café Vallauris finalizes the day, leaving one with immense inspiration on how such delicate craftsmanship is accorded to both the production of art and confectionery.