The Teien Museum: Tokyo’s Homage to Art Deco

By Cheryl White
May 20, 2015

After nearly two years of renovations, the Teien Museum at Shirokanedai finally reopened last November. As its name in Japanese implies, the museum is set in beautifully manicured gardens, but unlike many other Japanese gardens in the area, the Teien is uncluttered and presents a canvas for some large scale 20th century sculpture. Unfortunately, the garden is still undergoing a makeover and as such is only partially open to visitors. Tantalising glimpses of the outdoor artworks are, however, available from both the second story of the museum and from the drive in front of the building.

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This museum is all about the 20th century. Built by the controversial Prince Yasuhiko Asaka after he and his wife spent a couple of years in Europe, the building is unapologetically Art Deco. The recent renovations have been both sympathetic and inspired. Most of the house is open, with rooms set up as they were in the prince’s day with some furniture, costumes and personal art on display.

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Generally these are used as a backdrop for the museum’s collection of early 20th century art, including some gorgeous Lalique glass and Impressionist paintings. The designs and artwork of Henri Rapin are most evident throughout. An especially beautiful piece in the anteroom called “Vase Lumineaux Rapin” is a huge fountain-styled vase in which perfume was added to the top of light to disperse scents throughout the space. Rapin had a hand in designing many of the rooms, as well as creating everything in them from wallpaper and furniture to light fittings and decorative pieces.

Interestingly, one whole room has been dedicated to war sketches from the European trenches of World War I. A truly magnificent bust carving in rock crystal of a French soldier is definitely a must-see. Also the renovated hand-painted wallpaper in many of the rooms is a work of art in itself.

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The collection of the museum is eclectic and rather beautiful. Together the house and collection are considered by the Japanese government to be one of the “Tangible Cultural Properties of Tokyo.”

The restoration also included a major extension to the rear of the building. This modern glass and concrete annex houses the museum’s new directive—a so-called TTM: Ignition Box, which combines spaces for viewing art, performing art and learning about art. Or as the museum suggests, “where film, music and media art intersect” and cause “cross conventional genres to catch fire” in this “ignition box space.” The first of these intersecting genres to be performed in the museum were consecutive music and video artists introducing their works.

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Meanwhile in the garden “playdates” are arranged for toddlers and small children to help them discover the “treasures” in the collection and garden. These playdates will occur with every TTM: Ignition Box program. Hopefully this idea of bringing together ideas and experts in various fields at the museum will indeed ignite the imagination of the museum users.

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My visit coincided with the exhibition in the main gallery of “Fantasie Marvielleuse: Classicism in French Art Deco” but the latest exhibition, running now through June 30, is “Mask—Beauty of the Spirts: Masterpieces from the Musee d’quai Branley.” The programs at the museum appear to change on a very regular basis (roughly every four to six weeks), and the museum website offers an English language exhibition program and schedule.

The Deets

Address: 5-21-9 Shirokanedai, Minato-ku, Tokyo

Tel: 03-3443-0201

Open: Daily, 10 a.m.–6 p.m.

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