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May 29 2020

How Japanese Museums Are Preparing to Reopen

by Pamela Wong

Exterior view of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (MOT). Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Japan’s enormous cultural infrastructure of art museums is gradually coming back to life after nearly three months of closure. A small number of private and prefectural Japanese museums had already decided to reopen in mid-May, while most waited to do so until after prime minister Shinzo Abe announced the lifting of Japan’s national state of emergency on May 25. Museums throughout the country have imposed various precautionary measures following guidelines published by the Japanese Association of Museums, International Council of Museums (ICOM), and International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art (CIMAM). These include the requirement of face masks, the testing of body temperature at the entrance, the collection of visitors’ personal details including travel histories, and mandatory online registrations or telephone appointment booking before visiting.

With declining case numbers and the governmental all-clear, a number of public museums are set to resume services on June 2, including Tokyo National Museum, Kyoto National Museum, Nara National Museum, Kyushu National Museum, Art Tower Mito, National Museum of Art Osaka (NMAO), Tokyo Photographic Art Museum (TOP), and Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT). However, most of the national museums will only partially reopen their spaces. For the Tokyo National Museum, for instance, prior online registration is required for entry. The Kyoto National Museum will alternate between the opening of its permanent collection and its outdoor garden according to a specific schedule until July 21. Similarly, the Nara National Museum will only open the Nara Buddhist Sculpture Hall, Ritual Bronzes Gallery, and the Lower Level Passageway, with reduced hours. The Kyushu National Museum will restrict the maximum number of visitors to 200.

In a few cases, public contemporary art museums are still preparing to launch summer exhibitions as planned. NMAO will showcase conceptual artist Danh Vō’s first comprehensive solo exhibition in Japan as scheduled, featuring around 40 old and new works. TOP will present photographer Daido Moriyama’s retrospective “Tokyo: Ongoing,” on view until September 22, while the previous show about fashion photography has been extended to July 19. MOT has a full calendar, forging ahead with group exhibition “The Potentiality of Drawing” with illustrations by contemporary Japanese artists, “Present Day and in Times Past” spotlighting the museum’s collection with works created from 1930s and onwards, in addition to Olafur Eliasson’s solo presentation and a group exhibition in collaboration with the nonprofit Kadist foundation.

Elsewhere in the country, prefectural and city museums in regions with lower population density such as Iwate, Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, and Niigata have already reopened since early or mid-May. In Kyoto, the newly renovated Kyoto City Kyocera Museum of Art finally opened on May 26 after several postponements, but only to Kyoto residents. According to Bijutsu Techo, viewing times are being restricted to one hour for visitors, who are also required to queue outside the museum with proper social distancing. Photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto’s retrospective exhibition, part of the museum’s inaugural program, attracted 450 people on the first day.

Some museums have chosen to remain closed, such as the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo. On May 26, the museum announced the cancellation of its exhibition of Greek sculptures, “Sports in Art,” due to logistic difficulties caused by Covid-19. Earlier, the museum had to postpone its blockbuster exhibition of paintings on loan from London’s National Gallery, originally set to open in March. Other major private museums in Tokyo have yet to release plans about reopening, such as Mori Art Museum, Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery, and Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum.

Pamela Wong is ArtAsiaPacific’s assistant editor. 

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