Mitsuaki Tanabe was born in Yokohama in 1939 and graduated from Tama Art University in 1961. After a meeting with Isamu Noguchi, he stopped making art until he felt capable of overcoming Noguchi's influence. During this period of silence, he traveled to over 50 countries in North America, South America, Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East. He did not really begin showing his own work until the end of the 1970s. As a result his overall output has not been as large as that of some artists.
In the 1980s, Tanabe took the environment as a basic theme and his work showed a remarkable development, made possible by the long period of silent germination. His series of projects related to the environment is attracting attention as one of the few bodies of work that transcends the usual condition of "contemporary art," which has been shut within the walls of "art for art's sake." Here, I would like to introduce his major monuments and the MOMI series.
In 1983, Tanabe created Saku, a large structure installed in the front of the Saku Municipal Museum of Modern Art in Nagano prefecture. Not a conventional sculpture, it combines landscape design, architecture, and a number of special structural features. It is located in a park with an area of 3700 square meters through which visitors pass on their way to the museum. As they walk along a straight, narrow path toward the museum building they come to an L-shaped stone structure containing a tunnel-like passageway 22 meters in length. Next to it is a chimney-like wind-collection tower, 40 meters high, that draws air into the passageway. The path through the park turns 90 degrees on a short arc to enter the tunnel structure which is faced with stone on its outside walls. It is like walking into a cave. The interior walls are made of unadorned concrete and there is no electrical light on the inside. Near the entrance is a plate coated with beautiful blue sea peacock shells plates embedded in the wall. Sunlight from the outside is reflected by the shells, creating a dazzling effect pleasing to the eye. People participate in the work by walking through it. Soon after entering, there is a tight 180 degree turn in the narrow passage, which leaves visitors enveloped in darkness for a moment, a slightly frightening experience. The darkness is then relieved by a skylight in the ceiling. A faint but beautiful light is produced by sunlight shining through a thin piece of red marble. Then the passage turns 90 degrees in a gentle curve and sunlight becomes visible coming in the end of the tunnel. There is another 90-degree turn right at the exit, so the beauty of the light is experienced by itself without a view of the outside landscape. Embedded in the wall on the left near the exit is a granite stone with a hole in it, like a flat donut. Another large granite plate is embedded in the opposite wall. Clearly, this is a place of special significance. The hole is joined to the wind-collection tower by an underground pipe, so the air blowing out of it comes from 40 meters up in the sky. Through it, one can experience the temperature, smell, and sound of air blowing in from Siberia. In order to bring air into the tunnel from a point high in the sky without the use of machinery, the structure of the wind tower was carefully calculated with the help of an expert in hydromechanics and a scientific study was made with a wind tunnel at a facility in Koto-ku, Tokyo. Moving from the wind hole toward the end of the tunnel, visitors are suddenly enveloped in bright outside light and then naturally follow the path to the museum entrance.
Saku, 1983, Saku City Komaba Park
Photo: Naoki Takeda

Interior of Saku. Wind from hole in center of round stone comes from top of 40-meter tower.
Photo: Naoki Takeda
The experience in the cave lasts only a few minutes, but it provides a concentrated experience of the natural environment of Saku Plain, located 700 meters above sea level and subjected to north winds from Siberia during most of the year. Saku is an outdoor sculpture that provides a compelling esthetic experience of interaction with the greater world of nature, creating a flow of time different from ordinary time through encounters with natural esthetic effects, gradations of light and dark, changes in temperature, and subtle perceptions of smells and sounds. It is a monument that raises awareness of the wonderful characteristics of the surrounding region and expresses the grandeur of the natural environment. This is especially important at a time when people are not sufficiently conscious of nature and are no longer aware of its special qualities as they go about the repetitive business of everyday life.
Translated by Stanley N. Anderson