Irving Penn and Issey Miyake: Visual Dialogue at 21_21 Design Sight
When I picked up this flyer for Irving Penn and Issey Miyake: Visual Dialogue, I thought that I hadn’t seen such a visually stunning juxtaposition of images in a long time. I loved the way the contours of the dress mimicked the folds of the flower, and the use of complimentary colours. When I noticed that this exhibition was showing at 21_21 Design Sight, I remembered my long forgotten intention to check out that site.
[21_21 Design Sight from the garden of Tokyo Midtown, Roppongi Art Night 2009]
This was the first time I saw the building - in darkness on Roppongi Art Night, two years ago. I thought, Oh la la, what is that building?? I wanted to climb on the roof and just lie there, staring at the stars. I wanted to live in it. I had no idea what it was, but my curiosity was piqued. Being the procrastinator I am, I just kept saying that I would find out what it was and go there someday.
[Daytime photo of the exterior]
So here’s the story. 21_21 Design Sight: the name is derived from the term for perfect vision, “20-20.” The venue is meant to be a space where the meaning and the direction of design can be explored. 21_21 Design Sight is the brain child of designer Issey Miyake, known worldwide for his avant-garde fashion creations. In the 1980’s, Miyake approached other influential figures in the creative scene to discuss the need for a design museum in Tokyo. Their vision was finally realized in 2007. Designed by Tadao Ando, the building is defined by an angled roof made from one sheet of folded steel. From the outside, the size is unimpressive - one might wonder how much could possibly be housed in such a small space.
[Ground floor of 21_21 Design Sight. 133 square metres of gallery space, which is only 30% of the total volume of the building. ]
[Stairs leading to the basement level]
[Overlooking the stairs leading to the basement level. I love how the lines of the various design elements converge at the corner of the building.]
And here’s the kicker: a whopping 70% of the building is underground. This element of surprise that exists in the architecture of the building is a fundamental aspect of 21_21 Design Sight. Miyake and Ando wanted it to be a place where “visitors can be exposed to the pleasures of design and have new experiences filled with surprises.” 21_21 Design Sight not only focuses on exhibitions of works of art, but also on talks and workshops aimed at discovering how design changes our daily lives.
[View of the staircase from the basement. The sunken courtyard allows natural light to come in.]
[Another view of the staircase.]
I had gone to see Irving Penn and Issey Miyake: Visual Dialogue in September 2011 just after the show opened, on a weekday evening about an hour before closing. The place was nearly deserted. Most of the exhibitions I visit in Tokyo are packed to the brim with visitors. I was thrilled - it was my first time at 21_21 Design Sight, and first time really seeing the works of both Irving Penn and Issey Miyake. The fact that I was able to explore all three at my leisure made all the difference.
The building is of course, perfect. It is stark, clean, and simple. It is a wonderful space in which to exhibit art because it lets the art speak for itself. The grey of the concrete and translucence of the glass are a perfect backdrop for the lush colours of Miyake’s work. The exhibit consists of Miyake’s original sketches for his creations, Penn’s photographs of the finished pieces, posters, animations, slideshows and Penn’s own original work. The sheer scale of the posters, video projections and animations are all the more impressive because of the cold vastness of the space.
[Video projection of Miyake’s various collections from 1987-1999]
[From Miyake’s 1991 collection…one of his more wearable pieces]
[From Miyake’s 1994 collection - not exactly wearable, but one of his more thought-provoking and well-known pieces]
[Irving Penn’s “Chocolate Mouth”]
I thoroughly enjoyed this experience. 21_21 Design Sight is a really wonderful space and it adds a lot to the architectural landscape of Tokyo. To see the visual products of a thirteen-year relationship between Penn and Miyake in such a dynamic setting was truly wonderful. Another thing that I took away from this experience was the desire to see more of Irving Penn’s work. He was one of the most prolific and well-respected portrait and fashion photographers of our time, and I really hope to see more of his work in the future.
Irving Penn and Issey Miyake: Visual Dialogue is showing for another three months, so head on over to check it out.
January 02, 2012