Marugame, Japan

Issey Miyake and Isamu Noguchi

Genichiro Inokuma Museum of Contemporary Art

Marugame, a small port on the shore of Shikoku, Japan’s eastern island, is the site of the Genichiro Inokuma Museum of Contemporary Art. This bold box of a building was designed by Yoshio Taniguchi and built in 1991 in honor of the late painter Inokuma, who was born in Marugame but lived for many years in the West. The museum’s rectangular white facade, which from the town square appears framed like a giant television set, is marked with blown-up versions of Inokuma’s childlike brush drawings of animals.

This innocent note established the tone of an exhibition that represented an astonishing cultural exchange. At Marugame the divide between East and West that was so flamboyantly challenged by the designer Issey Miyake in his first book East Meets West nearly twenty years ago was once again dismissed in a collaboration that thrilled the schoolchildren of the town and delighted the adults who gathered for the opening: among the latter were Taniguchi; Tadao Ando, whose extraordinary Museum of Contemporary Art on Naoshima looks out on the Inland Sea from the opposite shores; and Issey Miyake’s pleated tribe. Miyake had masterminded this show, entitled “Isamu Noguchi and Issey Miyake: Arizona.” The exhibition represented his response to the work of his friend, the sculptor Noguchi, whose home and studio at Mure were situated in the heart of the Shikoku quarries. For Miyake the importance of Noguchi—an artist who created a universal art while digging deep into Japanese tradition—cannot be underestimated. Marugame was the perfect site for such a conjunction of creative forces.

Inokuma’s presence was established through books filled with drawings and sketches of the American Southwest. An image of a Hopi Indian doll was blown up so that it dwarfed the show’s opening space; beneath it Miyake’s recent “Arizona” designs were displayed on straw mannequins. These designs are characterized by cloth of white cotton, linen, or wool stiffened with horsehair, on which is printed, as if painted, Inokuma’s brushstrokes of Hopi motifs and mesa landscapes. Miyake’s clothes became, like the museum’s facade, an extension of Inokuma’s sketchbook. In this case Miyake navigated between art and fashion as deftly as Inokuma drew the Arizona horizon with his deceptively simple calligraphy.

In the galleries above, a series of Noguchi bronze sculptures with flat, folded forms echoed the “architecture” of Miyake’s folds and pleats, which were displayed both as two-dimensional shapes and as inhabited, voluminous forms on multicolored mannequins. Noguchi’s white paper Akari lamps were hung above a display of Miyake’s ingeniously cut white pleats. The folded paper, cloth, and bronze forms throughout the show suggested an exchange in the highly inventive language of origami. The lamps, Noguchi’s most practical and universal design, hung beside the pleats, which represent Miyake’s great ambition for functional, universal clothing.

On the opening day of the exhibition, Miyake stood outside the museum to receive the town’s children, who brought the beaming designer offerings of drawings and constructions. He escorted them through the show and watched them clamber over playground equipment designed by Noguchi. The exhibition reached its climax when some of the clothes were suspended by wires from the ceiling of a gallery; driven by motors in the roof, they danced and leaped like performers in a polychromatic circus. Miyake’s role has thus extended—beyond that of a great designer, a champion of architects and supporter of other artists—to that of a curator in the guise of a ringmaster or puppeteer.

Mark Holborn