The National Museum of Art, Osaka
It was a sunny day in Osaka and I was happily walking alongside the Tosabori River enjoying the occasional breeze coming from the Bay of Osaka.
After five days of exploring castles, markets, shrines and temples, I needed a change in direction in something more contemporary. A quick search of “art museum in Osaka” on the internet led me on this journey to The National Museum of Art.
The NMAO is Japan’s fourth national museum and began its journey in 1977 as Expo Museum of Fine Arts at Osaka’s Expo ’70. The museum underwent a number of relocation and iteration, slowly building up its collection, until finally finding its home on Nakano Island in 2007.
The Big Bamboo
I could already see the museum’s current incarnation from across the Chikuzen Bridge. The glorious glass and steel structure resembling a bamboo shoot was designed by renowned Argentinian architect, Cesar Pelli whose previous project was Malaysia’s very own iconic Petronas Twin Towers.
The titanium-coated steel tubes were given free reign to twist and curve in an asymmetrical manner, culminating in two pointy “shoots” soaring into the sky. What impressed me was this whole structure is actually the “roof” of the museum as three floors of galleries and public facilities were all built underground.
Into The Belly
I was bathed in the warm glow of the evening sun upon entering the lobby. An escalator ride down slowly opened up the vast spaciousness of the museum’s interior where a huge crevice from the glass allowed the sunlight to pour into the lowest level of the building.
After checking-in my backpack, I proceeded to take another escalator towards the main gallery. Ryan Gander’s “The Greatest Story Ever Told” was the current free exhibition at that time and it involved the artist showcasing the museum’s current collection in pairs, finding a common theme or perspective from two unseemly different works.
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The Greatest Story Ever Told
While most of the art museums I’ve been to compartmentalize their galleries based on themes or time period, Ryan Gander’s curation was a breath of fresh air. His pairing of of pieces based on his interpretation gave me a good number of riddles to solve by trying to find a connection between two art works.
I gave up after 10 minutes and decided to just admire the museum’s fine collection on display. The white-washed galleries had a balanced mixture of paintings, photographs and sculptures ranging from giant canvases to the typical hanging chair installation.
I was also surprised to see NMAO owning a number of pieces from the greats like Pablo Picasso and my pop art favorites Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. The National Museum of Art’s current collection is no match against its European and American counterparts but the building itself is an outstanding piece of work.
In a country that has successfully balanced tradition and modernity, museums like NMAO is a great place for travelers to take a peek into Japan’s embrace of the latter.
- NMAO is highly accessible via train. If you’re coming from the south (Dotonbori) like I did, get on the Yotsubashi Line and get off at Higobashi Station. The museum is a 10-minute walk away.
- NMAO is open from 10 am – 5 pm on Sundays, Tuesdays to Thursdays and 10 am – 8 pm on Fridays and Saturdays. It is closed on Mondays and certain public holidays.
- Admission for the exhibit is free while admission for the special exhibit is ¥430. The admission fee does change every now and then so do check out NMAO’s website for the latest updates.