No. 364 . 16 January 2008 
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Talking with Taniguchi

by C. B. Liddell

Some Westerners, when faced with Oriental creativity, have a tendency to get a little carried away. Instead of a balanced, rational approach, a tendency emerges to ascribe the aesthetic effect of what they see to some mysterious, spiritual force that is absent from their own culture, whether it be called Zen, Tao, wabi-sabi, or yin and yang.

This is, of course, the obverse side of the attitude that the Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said so scathingly exposed in his seminal work Orientalism (1978), which highlighted the ways that different cultures and societies distort and exoticize each other.

Although misconceptions may actually add luster to his creations, Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi — most famous for his redesign of New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), completed in 2004 — is keen to downplay such mystical elements in his work.

For example, the perfectly balanced inverse relationship of the circle and the square in one of his earliest designs, the Shiseido Art Museum (1978), built for Japan's leading cosmetic company, seems an obvious echo of the ideal harmony between the masculine yang and feminine yin principles in Eastern thought.

"I didn't have anything like that in mind," Taniguchi says. "But the museum consists of two parts: one end for the art gallery and one end to exhibit cosmetics and advertising posters. For the art gallery, I wanted to have gentler light, whereas for the other, where they exhibit cosmetics, I wanted stronger light from outside."   >>>

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