Sculpture in the Sun and Rain

At Japan's open-air museum, human artistry complements nature to produce a stunning view wherever one looks

`WHEN you are out in the open air in the sun, rain, and the clouds ... this, I think, helps people to appreciate that sculpture is part of life.'' So said the late British sculptor Henry Moore. Today 26 Moore pieces, as well as other contemporary and modern sculptures are on view, come rain or shine, at the Hakone Open-Air Museum.

Nearly 500 works of art in all are here for the enjoying, set against one of nature's most majestic backdrops. Located some 60 miles miles southwest of Tokyo, its 70,000 square meters of fields and hills is part of a national park of the foot of Fujiyama.

Last year over two million visitors came here to walk the paths, breathe the clean air, see the majesty of the surrounding mountains, and experience some of the most notable sculpture of both the Eastern and Western worlds.

During a recent visit, this writer found it delightful watching a grandfather, with his small grandson, walking the trail hand-in-hand, reading the plaques that identify each work by title, artist, and year.

There were also dozens of Japanese school children being guided among the works of Rodin, Maillol, Bourdelle, Brancusi, Calder, Babo, Marini, Manzu, Noguchi, Nagare, and Moore.

The museum was founded in 1969 by Nobutaka Shikanai, retired president of Japan's largest communications conglomerate, the Fujisankei Group.

Since then, he has opened a second ``plateau of art,'' the Utsukushi-Ga-Hara Open-Air Museum on Japan's northern island of Honshu. Here are displayed more experimental works from younger, lesser-known artists.

The Hakone Open-Air Museum is best known for providing a refreshing glimpse of art under the sky. ``This, however, is just part of the museum,'' explained Seiji Tanaka, executive director of the Hakone and deputy director for the office of the chairman of Fujisankei.

`In addition to the oudoor area,'' he said, ``there are several galleries featuring contemporary works in a variety of mediums.'' The Picasso Pavilion houses 300 of the artist's works, he explained. Other galleries present works of Renoir, Chagall, Brancusi, Boccioni, Dubuffet, and Giacometti, and others.

``One of the most popular displays is Gabriel Loire's ``Symphonic Sculpture (1975),'' Tanaka noted. ``Towering over 40 feet into the air, this stained glass tower leads visitors, via a spiral staircase, to an exhilarating rooftop view of the mountains.

But don't think the museum has no whimsical side. The grandfather whom I had seen earlier was now being led by his small companion to a vividly colored jungle gym, giant indoor swings made of colorful woven nets, and on to a soap-bubble castle. There is even a genuine teahouse, which I'm sure the granddad found more inviting.

The Hakone Open-Air Museum was a success, thanks to the foresight of Mr. Shikanai, a collector of modern art. In the 1960s, many Japanese were too busy with economic recovery to worry about art. Shikanai, a pioneer in print and television, expanded his traditional upbringing to embrace the eclectic work of modern sculptors.

``His timing was perfect,'' Mr. Tanaka explained. ``As life-styles changed, so came the urge to conserve the environment, integrating it with enlightenment and education. Viewing art in a parklike setting was his way of achieving this goal.''

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