Exhibit at Clark demonstrates Ando’s depth and breadth

Looking at an architecture exhibit inside a museum is a strange experience because the building itself cannot be seen. The Clark Art Institute has managed to overcome such difficulties in its ongoing exhibit of esteemed architect Tadao Ando’s work by displaying miniature versions of his buildings alongside photographs.

The arrangement helps the viewer picture Ando’s work in its intended environment. Additionally, the open simplicity of the collection mirrors Ando’s work; in fact, the architect himself organized every element of the exhibit. Certain patterns of Ando’s buildings are clearly demonstrated, from his use of natural light to the incorporation of a building into its environment by reflecting the natural surroundings.

Ando’s use of natural light is best shown in the “Church of Light” in which a concrete chapel has a cross carved out of the end, letting in a flood of light. A miniature of this chapel can be seen through a small hole in one the walls of the exhibit; this miniature version helps the viewer see the chapel as Ando intended it to be seen. The miniature version of the “Church of Light” is complemented by several wonderful photographs.

Both of these representations help one imagine the visual and physical sensations of the chapel in which the only source of bright light is shot through a cross; because this structure does not have any other windows, the light coming from the cross is the main focus of the chapel. Due to the urban location of the church, the only view outside the church is of houses. Ando took this situation and turned it to his advantage. He hides this busy urban view from the people in the chapel by creating a serene, creatively-lit environment for the congregation within.

Yet another church in which Ando shows his clever control over the play of light is “Church on the Water” (which can also be seen in a miniature version through one of the small holes). In one of the photographs the sun hits the church at such an angle that it divides the inside side of the chapel into two perfect triangles. This not only shows Ando’s amazing use of natural light in his buildings, but also the sharp geometry used to create such a perfect angle.

“Church on the Water” exemplifies the incorporation of environment in structure. One of the church’s walls is made of glass, revealing Ando’s choreographed view of a calm lake and cross, a quiet embodiment of purity. The effect created is that of the church appearing to float on water, Ando’s subtle Biblical reference to Christ’s walk on water in the Gospels. This manipulation of simple elements invites the viewer to participate in the gentle colloquy between the building, the lake and the surrounding scenery. There seems to be no barrier between the interior and exterior of the building.

Nevertheless, Ando is not always predictable in harmonizing his buildings with their environment and refuses to be pigeonholed. For “Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum” he used a series of straight lines and rectangular shapes to contrast rather than mimic the curvy hills of the surroundings. And for “Fabrica,” Ando hid the building from the environment, nestling it underground so as not to disturb the natural beauty of the landscape.

Because Ando is the architect for the new wing at the Clark Art Institute, it is illuminating to have this exhibit so that we, the future beneficiaries of his creativity, can examine his previous work.