For its latest architecture exhibition, the Museum of Modern Art in New York has set its focus on a group of contemporary Japanese architects. The museum’s first-ever presentation dedicated entirely to practitioners from the country, the show – ‘A Japanese Constellation’, which opens this weekend – includes work from Toyo Ito, Kazuyo Sejima, SANAA, Ryue Nishizawa, Sou Fujimoto, Akihisa Hirata and Junya Ishigami.
The ‘constellation’ in the title is not there by any accident. For a profession that has become so preoccupied with ‘starchitects’, the exhibition aims to undo that narrow focus on individual genius. Instead, it casts a group of contemporaries not just as luminaries unto themselves, but also as peers who share in the same gravitational pull. So even though they all head offices that bear their names, they also engage in a unique way of co-operating. Take SANAA, for example. The show includes independent work from its two principals – Sejima and Nishizawa – but also those projects on which they worked as a partnership.
The exhibition begins with an unfolding of Ito’s work, and as the show demonstrates, all of the included architects have shared in his orbit. ‘When we started to conceptualise the show several years ago, we thought it would be a monographic show about Toyo Ito,’ explains MoMA director Glenn D Lowry. ‘But, as it turned out, Ito was more interested in this network of relationships he had with other architects.’ So, as Lowry put it during a walk-through, ‘the exhibition endeavors to trace this network’.
The show’s curator, Pedro Gadanho (now the director of Lisbon’s Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology), finds in the work another through-line in addition to the collegiality catalysed by Ito. ‘All of them are pursuing an artistic endeavor,’ he explains. Even as he points out the complex engineering that each of the projects demanded, he reads the final outcome as something other than utilitarian buildings. ‘These architects work beyond the functionalist dogma that characterizes modernist architecture.’
‘A Japanese Constellation’ includes 44 projects, represented through models, photographs and drawings. An accompanying catalogue provides a robust treatment of those projects along with a series of essays.