Thursday, March 17, 2011

Art Museums in Japan

In writing for this blog, I've developed an interest in art museums across the world - both in terms of their art collections and their exhibitions.  This post:
  • focuses on art museums in Japan
  • identifies the top museums
  • lists some of the museums of note - and why they are noteworthy
  • ruminates on the implications of the recent catastrophes for art in Japan
I was fascinated last year to see how many of the museums in the Far East are now overtaking those museums we conventionally think of as leaders in the art world - see Top 10 Art Galleries and Museums

Key Facts about Art Museums and Art Exhibitions in Japan

In the Art Newspaper survey of attendances at museums, art galleries and exhibitions in 2009 was published last year
  • Japan had three museums in the top 30 art museums in the world in 2009 based on visitor numbers.  (This may change when the update for 2010 comes out shortly)
  • The top four exhibitions in the world were all in Japan!  Truly this is the home of the "blockbuster" exhibition
  • The daily attendance figures for those top exhibitions far exceeds those experienced at other museums around the world.
Which basically means that Japan is not only a country with a long and illustrious cultural heritage, it also has a population which very much appreciates art.

Top Museums

The Museums in the top 30 worldwide in 2009 are listed below.

Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo

The Tokyo National Museum has a website which has an English version.    It's home to the largest collection of Japanese art anywhere in the world.  The art includes calligraphy, ceramics, statuary and swords as well as paintings and Buddhist art.
The Tokyo National Museum is the oldest and largest museum in Japan, and its collection preserves over 110,000 art and archaeological objects from Japan and other parts of Asia.
The original main gallery was structurally damaged in the1923 earthquake but was reconstructed in classical style.  The TNM Collection page on the website allows you to access the collection by different categories eg type of art and/or place of origin and/or what's on display at the moment.  There's a process which allows you to keep enlarging an image until it's a very good size. However the museum only provides a small selection of their collection online.  the rest is accessed via their image archive service

It's amazing how sophisticated the painting was in the 13th century!

ASYURA, lacquer statue(laquer, linen, wood, colour), about 153cm height
This museum hosted the #1 (Ashura and Masterpieces from Kohfukuji - 946k visitors) and #3 (Treasures of the Imperial Collections 448k visitors) exhibitiohe in the world in 2009.  These are the current scheduled exhibitons .  The one thing it's missing is an archive page for past exhibitions

National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo

The National Museum of Western Art opened in 1959 and is, as the name suggests, the focus for western art in Japan - although its focus is drawings and paintings.  Unlike in the west there is no separation of the twentieth century from the rest of western art and it covers everything from the 15th to 20th century.
The galleries feature pre-18th century paintings including those by Ritzos, Van Cleve, Veronese, Rubens, Van Ruysdael, and Ribera, 19th to early 20th century French paintings including works by Delacroix, Courbet, Manet, Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Moreau and works by the next generation of artists, such as Marquet, Picasso, Soutin, Ernst, Miro, Dubuffet and Pollock. 
You can see highlights from the collection here.  I have to say the quality of the imagery is stunning but I guess that's to be expected in a country which has made such an investment in perfecting digital imagery.  It also makes me wonder if they pay a lot of attention to restoring paintings so that one can appreciate their full quality.  So often in museums one can see the art and lament the state of the dirt it's covered in.  The artwork also have impeccable summaries written in excellent English.

Still Life with a Basket of Fruit (c 1654) by Cornelis de Heem
oil on panel
National Museum of Western Art, Japan

Its list of past exhibitions is pretty impressive! I'm even more impressed with the dates that their online archives go back to - all the way back to 1960!  It certainly beats anything I've seen with museums in the west!  In 2009 it hosted the #4 exhibition in the world - 17th-century Painting from the Louvre which had a total of 851,256 visitors.

The museum was also designed by Le Corbusier!

All in all this a very impressive Museum.  I'd certainly recommend that any one gets a chance should visit it.  I shall certainly be taking a longer look at the collection which is online.

Mori Art Museum, Tokyo 

The focus of the Mori Art Museum is on the the 21st century and contemporary and international art.  It aims to reflect all forms of artistic expression whatever the genre. It also aims to pioneer a new kind of art museum that is intellectually stimulating as well as friendly and readily accessible to the public and to stimulate interest in contemporary art.

It seems to be more rocused on exhibitions rather than a collection which is perhaps to be expected given its remit.

Other Art Museums in Tokyo

Here are some other museums in Tokyo - from which you can see there is a great interest in a wide range of art.
  • The Museum of Contemporary Art opened in 1995 and is Tokyo’s first public art gallery devoted to modern art. Its permanent collection has around 4,000 works, about 100 of which are on display at any one time. It focuses on international and Japanese post-war modern art including works by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, David Hockney, Gerhard Richter and Julian Schnabel.
  • The National Art Center in Roppongi is designed by Kisho Kurokawa and is Japan's largest exhibition space. The museum is dedicated to special exhibitions.  It's currently host to a major exhibitoon about Surrealism.
  • The National Museum Of Modern Art specializes in contemporary Japanese art from the Meiji Period (1868-1912) onwards.
  • Suntory Museum of Art in the Tokyo Midtown building in Roppongi offers changing exhibitions showcasing the collection of traditional Japanese art of the Suntory corporation.
  • Matsuoka Museum of Art features mainly the classical sculpture and Chinese ceramics collection of the late industrialist, Seijiro Matsuoka. Also displays modern European sculpture and painting, and Japanese painting
You can find a lot more details abotu Art Museums and Galleries in Japan at the Japan Visitor website
    Earthquakes and art collections

    I guess this post started off because I wondered what the chances were of anything happening to the cultural heritage and art collections in Japan's museums.

    Right now all the museums are closed.  Partly because of the way in which the country is experiencing lengthy power cuts.  Also I guess as a precaution given the future is still somewhat uncertain.

    There has been some considerable investment in making the museums quake-proof.  I guess consideration will now be given to whether or not it is necessary or possible to make them tsunami proof.  Obviously, the prospect of radiation must be a major concern right now (over and above the obvious concern for the people in the area).  I've no idea what the implications are for radiation for artwork but if any should head in its direction I'd be pretty certain that it means it wouldn't be travelling anywhere any time soon.

    My guess is that the long term impact of the earthquake is that the nature of the disaster which has hit in Japan will mean that government funding must necessarily be diverted towards rebuilding the country and making it even safer before the next one comes along.

    What that means for art museums and art exhibitions at the moment is anybody's guess. 

    For the moment it seems to mean that all rooms requiring air-conditioning are off limits until the electricity shortages have been addressed and the power cuts stop. 

    However I think that, in the longer term, the people living in Japan will draw great confort from all their cultural heritage which is still on display.  It denotes a civilisation which continues to survive whatever fate befalls it.


    Anonymous said...

    Interesting that the national museum doesn't draw a timeline distinction along the lines of Western museums. I think I will have to now have a look to see how they do analyse and present the changes in and development of Western art over the centuries.

    Making A Mark said...

    I fins that when you look at what you "know" (because it's your "familiar culture" through the eyes of those who are coming from a different perspective you almost always learn something new and valuable

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