Day 13

Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography namedroppig

Our visit to this museum was rather short – one hour including the introduction by Harumi Niwa, the chief curator.
The museum is one of five museums managed by the Tokyo Metropoitan Foundation for History and Culture (the other museums are: Edo-Tokyo Museum, Museum of Contamporary Art Tokyo, Metropolitan Art Museum and Teien Art Museum).

The Museum of Photography opened at the Yebisu Garden Place location in 1995, but since 1988 they have already been building up their collection – of photo’s and ‘ a wide range of materials that will facilitate a comprehensive understanding of photographic culture’. The collection consists now of about 30.000 pieces, 80% of which is Japanese photography. And, I quote, ‘ the 17 photographers designated to as major photographers to be focused on in the collection, are:
Akiyama Shotaro, Ishimoto Yasuhiro, Uedo Shojo, Kawada Kikuji, Kimura Ihee, Kuwabara Kineo, Shirakawa Yoshikazu, Tsuchida Hiromi, Tomatsu Shomei, Nagano Shigeichi, Narahara Ikko, Hamaya Hiroshi, Hayashi Tadahiko, Fujiwara Shinya, Hosoe Eikoh, Miriyama Daido, Watanabe Yoshio.
For me a list to google, as I don’t know the half of them, or maybe useful information for the folks back home. There is another list of 21 ‘designated’ photographers according to the New Policy for the Photography Collection, but unfortunately the half of the list is unreadable through a printing mistake. The ones I can read are:

Araki Nobuyoshi, Furuya Seiichi, Ishiuchi Miyako, Koyama Hotaro, Morimura Yasumasa (also the curator of the Yokohama Triennale), Sato Tokihiro, Suda Issei, Suzuki Kiyoshi, Tamura Akihide, Yanagi Miwa.

The museum has 3 exhibition spaces; 22 exhibitions per year are organized by 13 staff curators.  The two exhibitions that were on during our visit and that we ran trough shortly (but got the catalogues) were of:

Akihiko Okamura, (1929-85), all about life and death – he was a photojournalist in the 60’s and 70’s, ‘ the next Robert Capa’, that worked during the Vietnam War and photographed in the Dominican Republic, Hawaii, Tahiti and Ireland. Even his war photo’s are somehow warm through his contact with the subjects and the use of colour.
Fiona Tan, Terminology – ‘her first full-scale retrospective in Tokyo’.

The museum is closing for reconstruction in October, and will be reopened in 2016. Just as the Museum of the Contamporary Art Tokyo. So you know.

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Hara Museum Arc.
Established in 1988 as an offshoot to the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, the Hara Museum Arc at the foot of Mt. Haruna-san was build in order to make room for the collection belonging to the Hara family. The museum designed by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki (who also designed MoCA Los Angeles) is located in the countryside 150 km outside of Tokyo. The collection currently holds about 1500 works/titles. The focus is on contemporary art – which in this case seemed to be defined as post-1950s art.

Looking back, it strikes me that we have experienced several examples of museums in both Japan and Korea which favored displaying the art work in a “black box” instead of the “white box”. In the Hara Museum Arc, the current hanging in the so called Kankai pavilion – also a black box – was a highlight. Here, historical works stemming from the ancestral collection of the Hara family were on display alongside contemporary works such as charcoal drawings by Leiko Ikemura and a painting by Yoshitomo Nara. Due to the significance ascribed to the changing seasons within Japanese culture the exhibition in the Kankai pavilion changes every month.


Hence, the current display of a beautiful folding screen from the 17th Century, in so called Musashino style depicting a landscape with flowers, grasses and a hanging moon especially chosen for the September exhibition. According to Japanese tradition, the moon is a sign of autumn, since “this is the time a year when the moon is most beautiful,” the curator informed us.




Surprisingly enough, a visit to the museum storage turned out to be another highlight of this visit. It tells you a lot about a museum to see how they treat their works behind the scenes. After taking off our shoes we were led to the clean storage room which in part also seemed to serve as a back stage showroom with selected pieces on view. Among others, a handful of large format paintings by Lee Ufan were on display here – probably one of the artists whose works we have seen in most museums during our visit in both Korea and Japan (Lee Ufan was born in Korean 1936, but has been living in Japan for many years).


Yayoi Kusama, Self Obliteration, 1980

Other works on display was a lovely 1980 installation by Yayoi Kusama – a kind of yellow environment in wood and painted acrylic resin including table and chairs. I have a weak spot for Kusama, especially her 1960s happenings in New York, but the vast commodification of the artist (from polka spotted key chains to likewise pillows) in every museum shop in Japan has been a surprise and a bit overwhelming.


Visiting the storage also showed us how to prevent a sculpture from damaging due to earthquakes currently affecting the area. Shigeo Toyas sculptural installation is made out several blocks of wood (about 2 meters each, each standing 60 cm from each other when installed). To make sure that the wood pillars wouldn’t be damaged, the installation had been gathered in a tight bundle.


Children’s room by Hiroshi Fuji.


Children’s room by Hiroshi Fuji.


Arts Maebashi
At 5 pm we reached our final destination. Arts Maebashi is an arts center that will celebrate its first anniversary at the end of October 2014. It is run by Fumihiko Sumitomo, who is a former senior curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOT), Tokyo and a founding member of The AIT residency in Tokyo and is widely considered as one of the leading figures of contemporary art in Japan.

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Maebashi is a town about 100 kilometers from Tokyo with a total population of 320,000 citizens. A favorable economic situation (Maebashi used to be an important center for the production of silk for the European market) made it into a flourishing cultural scene in the 19th and 20th centuries. But in 1945 Maebashi’s glory was put to an end: only ten days before the end of WW2 the city was heavily bombed and left in ruins. Luckily this did not make an end to Maebashi’s cultural life, as is testified by the list of artists that have lived here and the art movements that developed here in the second half of the 20th century.
Arts Maebashi is located in a former departement store called Seibu Walk and offers a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Its program comprises temporary exhibitions and art projects with a strong focus on “sharing” and on the exchange with the local community. The two artists that were introduced after a short welcome by the director give a good idea of how this mission must be understood:


After a two-year residency at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam, Meiro Koizumi returned to his hometown Maebashi where he is preparing a solo show with director Sumitomo and his team. Koizumi is working together with fellow citizens and fellow-countrymen hoping this might help him to get a better understanding of the country into which he was born.

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At first glance, the colourful, participatory work of the artist duo Kosugei1-16 might seem very different from Koizumi’s video’s, but is in fact very similar. For the project that was presented Kosugei1-16 worked together with children from the area trying to bring back to life the spirit of Kondojoshi- the founder of a local drawing school for children who lost everything during the war.
Besides the exhibitions organised at the museum, Arts Maebashi is involved in various projects in downtown Maebashi making the area around the museum into a vibrant area as we were able to experience during the short tour director Sutimoto gave us.

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For the artists that are reading with us: next month Arts Maebashi is initiating an international artist residency that will allow 3 artists per year to spend min. 2 months in Maebashi. From what we saw, this context will surely provide a stimulating context for all those who are searching to develop and deepen their work!


Arts Maebashi is yet another excellent example of what seems to connect the many places we have visited and the many people we have met (both in Korea and Japan) who place art at the core of their understanding of/ and dealing with the world – present, past and future.


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