Haunted Play House

Old paintings of old long-dead people can be, well, spooky.

Haunted Play House

Collect dozens of moody portraits from the Renaissance, Dutch Golden Age, and Pre-Raphaelite periods, and things get eerie very quickly.

Haunted Play House

That's what Torafu Architects did in their new interactive installation for children at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT).

Haunted Play House

They turned a gallery at MOT into a scary hall of portraits, with hundreds of eyes following visitors as they walk around the space.

Haunted Play House

Is this the stuff of kids' (cultural) nightmares?

Haunted Play House

Fortunately, there's more than enough fun to counter the fear factor. The architects engineered the installation for children to play with and modify the works of art.

Haunted Play House

Small entrances in the sides of the gallery cube open onto the "backstage," which is designated children-only.

Haunted Play House

From behind the scenes, they can enter and alter the portraits as they wish, entertaining themselves and anyone looking at the art on the other side.

Haunted Play House

Kids rotate the heads or features of portrait subjects, or even insert themselves into the paintings.

Haunted Play House

An invisible man watches over the installation, delightfully doing nothing to stop children from breaking just about every museum rule in the book.

Haunted Play House

“It is important for children to go inside of the frame, which they can't do in a normal museum," Torafu principal Minaho Sakane tells Co.Design. “Of course, they can't even touch the frame usually.”

Above: Dispossessed eyes of portraits dot the hallway leading to the exhibition.

Co.Design

The Art Of Scaring Children: A Tokyo Museum Turns Haunted House

The Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo spooks its younger visitors to get into art--in all its gory.

Haven’t you always thought that the Mona Lisa was a little creepy, her hesitant grin a little too knowing? What about the grimacing cherubs that populate Dutch Golden Age portraiture? Or worse, Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro nightmares? Tokyo-based Torafu Architects has collected such works with the potential to spook for a Haunted Play House installation at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT).

The project, conceived for the museum's annual summer children’s exhibition, drops an austere cubic volume in the center of a gallery. The walls are lined with re-creations of famous portraits, including by Vermeer and Arcimboldo, that the architects deemed more than a little unnerving. The effect, says Torafu principal Minaho Sakane, turns the gallery into “a spooky hall of portraits.”

As one walks around the installation, especially if that one is a child, the museumgoer progressively gets the feeling that things are slightly off. The surprised expression worn by Caravaggio’s Boy Bitten by a Lizard as he recoils from the bloodthirsty reptile appears a bit too lively. The disturbing rictus worn by the young girl in Judith Leyster’s A Boy and a Girl with a Cat and an Eel oscillates. And did the van Eyck just wink?

Yes on all accounts. The portraits are manipulated--sometimes subtly, other times not--by children behind the scenes. Small portals proportioned to the heights of young ones grant them access to the heart of the installation. Once inside, they can scramble from painting to painting and peer through the eyes of the ghostly frozen personages depicted on the other side of the wall. They can rotate a subject’s head or even replace it with their own.

“It is important for children to go inside of the frame, which they can't do in a normal museum," Sakane tells Co.Design. “Of course, they can't even touch the frame usually.”

The children are encouraged to go wild, and they do. Their excited shrieks and hurried whispers may ruin the surprise, but no one seems to mind. Kids dart back and forth from "backstage" to the display side to see friends insert themselves into the paintings. They laugh and then swap places.

The eeriness of the place is broken, and the masters are turned into bobbing heads. Go ahead and stretch Mona Lisa's smile, the invisible guard in the corner won't stop you.

Add New Comment

0 Comments