Pola Museum of Art : Hakone Japan

The commitment to serious art in Japan is always overwhelming. Putting aside, for the moment, the question of whether this commitment is as seriously expressed with regard to Japanese culture as to European and Chinese, every prefecture has a major art museum, and private museums of the most extravagantly beautiful architecture abound. The Pola Museum of Art is no exception.

Opened recently in 2002, the Museum is the embodiment of Pola’s corporate ethic ‘to contribute to the prosperity and advancement of society through its work in the world of health and beauty’, with art as a vital part of that health and beauty. The Museum is home to the personal collection of Pola Orbis Group founder the late Mr Suzuki Tsuneshi (1930-2000). The Director of the Museum Mr Arayashiki Toru describes the collection as one following the personal interests of Mr Suzuki, some 9500 objects collected over forty years. The focus is ‘400 Western paintings chiefly works by Impressionists such as Monet and Renoir, Post-Impressionists such as Cezanne and Gauguin, the painters of the Ecole de Paris such as Modigliani and Chagall, and twentieth-century painters such as Picasso and Kandinsky,’ complemented by modern Japanese painting in both Western and Japanese styles.

The entrance to the museum is discreet, a natural part of the surrounding landscape, and leads to the museum proper which is mostly underground. Created to harmonize with the spectacular natural environment of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, the commitment of time, money, resources and dedication to this project leaves us speechless. Japanese architecture does of course have to take into account the possibility of earthquake. To this end the Pola Museum is circular, floats on a disk-shaped foundation, rests on rubber pads and over time is designed to fit more and more into the natural environment.

Unlike the Tadao Ando designed Museum of Contemporary Art in Fort Worth, USA, which dominates the art works to the extent that they vanish, this design complements both the natural environment and forms a comfortable cocoon for the art works. The movable walls of the large gallery space for the painitings did, however, have a sense of incompleteness and suggested a certain lack of professionalism in distinct contrast to the rest of the museum.

A cosmetic company with a continued commitment to research, Pola established the Research Institute of Beauty & Culture in 1976. The history of Japanese cosmetics and their influence outside of Japan is traced in a special exhibition area of the Museum. This is a fascinating look at traditional cosmetics and accessories and their development in the early 20th century. Lighting is a special feature, both ambient and object specific, and the smaller specific galleries evidence a higher level of design and attention to detail.

Given the history of Japan and its 250 year isolation from the Western world, we can appreciate the energetic pursuit of an understanding and appreciation for outside cultures, a pursuit which started in the mid-nineteenth century and continues today. Do we see the equivalent of this in our own history? Our institutions ably represent Australian and indigenous art, but remain attached to European culture and parochialism, and despite our proximity to Asia and current political rhetoric about the associated opportunities, we see little commitment to collections of Japanese or other Asian art, and White Rabbit in Sydney stands alone as a serious private museum committed to expanding our awareness of contemporary Asian art and culture.

Pola have established an Australian connection with their recent purchase of Jurlique, and perhaps we can look forward to some of the commitment to art that is de rigeur in Japan rubbing off on our Australian corporations?


All images courtesy of Pola Museum of Art