Tokyo museum tests waters by opening art show to visitors

People wearing face shields next to Pop Up Flower, a work by artist Takashi Murakami, at a media preview of Stars: Six Contemporary Artists From Japan To The World at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo last month.
People wearing face shields next to Pop Up Flower, a work by artist Takashi Murakami, at a media preview of Stars: Six Contemporary Artists From Japan To The World at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo last month.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

TOKYO • It is a blockbuster exhibition, featuring some of the biggest names in Japan's contemporary art scene. But will people still flock to galleries in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic?

That is the question on the mind of Ms Mami Kataoka, director of the influential Mori Art Museum, which reopened last Friday after a five-month hiatus with one of its most high-profile Japanese art shows in years.

"We live in a time when we are asked, 'What is the role of museums and what is the role of art?'" Ms Kataoka said at a press preview of the Stars exhibition last week.

The exhibition was supposed to open in April, running through the summer to attract visitors in town for the Olympics, with works by leading Japanese art figures such as Yayoi Kusama and Takashi Murakami.

But the coronavirus has forced a year-long delay of the Olympic Games and the museum closed its doors in February as infections began to climb in Japan.

"In this situation, it's difficult to manage (a museum)," Ms Kataoka said.

The exhibition is going ahead despite the challenges, even as Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike has warned of a second wave of infections in the capital.

The star-studded exhibition features well-known works such as Murakami's Miss Ko2 sculpture, which is imbued with elements of Japanese "otaku" subculture, as well as Kusama's abstract Infinity Nets paintings. It also showcases works by Hiroshi Sugimoto, Lee Ufan and Yoshitomo Nara, who is now preparing a major retrospective in Los Angeles.

Ms Kataoka said the show features artists who burst onto the global art scene after struggling for years in relative obscurity.

Some represent minimalist styles and others favour less traditional aesthetics, drawing from animation, pop culture and other subcultures.

"I was grateful... that this museum was able to reopen with this powerful exhibit of works by artists with long careers," she said.

Acclaimed installation artist and sculptor Tatsuo Miyajima told reporters the pandemic will test the art that people feel they need to see in person.

"We now only go to places and see people we really need to see and visit," said Miyajima, who is exhibiting at the show.

"I think there will be a selection process and museums are not exempt from that. People will come to see things they truly need to see."

Japan has seen a smaller virus caseload than many countries, with around 39,000 infections and more than 1,000 deaths.

But Tokyo is seeing a spike in cases and the authorities have warned more measures may be needed if infections rise further.

Visitors to the show will be asked to book in advance, wear masks and sanitise their hands frequently. In a bid to recoup costs, the museum is raising prices and stretching the exhibition's run longer.

Despite the challenges, Ms Kataoka is convinced that fans who do come will be pleasantly surprised. "Visitors will be able to experience the show in this uncrowded space. I think you'll see an improvement in the quality of the viewing experience," she said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2020, with the headline 'Tokyo museum tests waters by opening art show to visitors'. Print Edition | Subscribe