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The museum is built on a nearly inaccessible mountain near a nature preserve

Art and earth

I.M. Pei-designed mountainside museum showcases family's rich collection of world art

June 11, 1998
Web posted at: 3:22 p.m. EST (2022 GMT)

From CNN Style correspondent Elsa Klensch

SHIGA, Japan (CNN) -- The power of ancient tradition is the theme behind Japan's spectacular new museum, the Miho.

The museum is built on the belief that art and beauty enrich lives, and that beauty also encompasses modern architecture, for the museum was designed by world renowned architect I. M. Pei.

The Shinji Shumeiki religious sect gave Pei the challenge to build the museum on a nearly inaccessible mountain near a nature preserve.

The museum's Hiroko Koyama says despite the fact that the museum is nearly 80 percent underground, lots of light filters in.

CNN's Elsa Klensch tours the museum
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"Art and nature are harmonized beautifully in this building," she says. "And for me, every object in the collection is important. We have been so fortunate in obtaining great art works, each is a great example of its particular period."

The museum's collection contains more than 1,000 pieces, but only 260 objects are on display at any given time.

"My mother Mihoko, who founded our sect in 1970, has been collecting antiques for more than forty years," says Koyama. " We believe such incredibly beautiful objects have the power to purify one's soul. So this museum is a natural evolution of that principal."

works of art at the Museum
The museum's collection contains more than 1,000 pieces, but only 260 objects are on display at any given time

Buddha collection

The museum is divided into two wings -- north and south. The north wing contains Japanese art objects, especially ceramics, paintings and utensils used for tea ceremonies.

"Many of these were the first pieces my mother began collecting," says Koyama. "One of the most precious is an 11th-century glazed black tea bowl with rainbow colored spots."

The Miho's Buddha collection has rare pieces. One important statue here is the Buddha from Grandhara, in Pakistan.

"This Buddha represents the meeting of East and West," Koyama explains. " When Alexander the Great invaded Eastern Asia he brought with him a Greek influence that had a profound effect on the way Asian statues would come to be sculpted. This is a prime example."

The south wing is divided into separate sections according to regions the pieces represent. There are Egyptian, West Asian, classical, South Asian, Chinese and Islamic art rooms.

A highlight in the Egyptian section is the statue of Queen Arsinoe II.

"It's a magnificent piece made from a hard black stone called grandiorite," says Koyama. "It's so grand that we tried placing it in several other prominent sites but the conditions weren't right. The Egyptian room is perfect and we found a site that could accommodate it there."

Form, function and beauty

A 13th-century falcon-headed deity is made from silver, gold, lapis lazuli,rock crystal and Egyptian blue stone. It's special because it represents the god to which kings prayed.

When it comes to classical art pieces, the Miho has an outstanding collection.

"We have first century A.D. blue Roman fresco with birds and leaves and gardens that my mother and I love, and we found it in Switzerland," says Koyama. "A similar period piece is a fresco fragment with Cupid, such a little angel."

The large medallion and animal carpet highlights the Islamic portion of the museum. It's from Iran and dates back to the late 16th century.

A bronze shanked bell from 1000 B.C. stands at the entrance to the Chinese gallery. The pieces here are colorful, sculptural and textured. Some of the most charming include a series of ceramic figures of women from the early 18th-century Tang period.

"Most of the pieces served a function, such as this bronze oil lamp in the shape of a wrestler," Koyama says. "So there's form, function and above all beauty."

Koyama calls the Miho a "Shangri-la," and hopes visitors will find peace and happiness in the beauty and lush gardens of the museum.

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