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  • Jan 18, 2021

Forty-Year-Old Tokyo Art Museum Closes Doors

View of the courtyard garden of the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo. Photo by Osamu Watanabe. Image via Hara Museum ARC’s Twitter.

On January 11, the private Hara Museum of Contemporary Art bid farewell to its three-story space in Tokyo after four decades devoted to the promotion of Japanese contemporary art and international exchange. The museum will continue its activities including the preservation of its Tokyo collection at its Gunma branch, Hara Museum ARC.

The primary reason for the closure is the deterioration of the 1938 building, according to a November 2018 press release, which stated that there are “severe restrictions imposed on the reconstruction of the old building.” Located next to the Gotenyama Garden in Tokyo’s Shinagawa District, the museum was originally a private residence of businessman Kunizo Hara (1883–1958), built by architect Jin Watanabe. The house shortly served as an accommodation for the officers in the General Headquarters (GHQ) of the Allied Powers after the Second World War before becoming abandoned. In 1979, Kunizo Hara’s grandson Toshio Hara, currently chairman of Foundation Arc-en-Ciel, converted the building into a museum. Over the years, the building underwent a number of repairs and reconstructions, including major works done in 2008 with a new lighting system designed by Shozo Toyohisa.

The Tokyo museum was originally scheduled to close with a collection show at the end of 2020, displaying the house’s site-specific works, but had to scrap its plans due to delays caused by the spread of Covid-19. Its last show, the group exhibition “Time Flows: Reflections by Five Artists,” featuring works by Tomoki Imai, Tamotsu Kido, Lee Kit, Masaharu Sato, and Tokihiro Sato, closed on January 11.

A number of prominent Japanese artists were commissioned to create works for the Tokyo space before gaining international attention, including Yoshitomo Nara in 2004, Yayoi Kusama in 1991, and Hiroshi Sugimoto in 2012. The museum is also known for its permanent exhibition installed around the house, such as Tatsuo Miyajima’s LED light installation Time Link (1989/94) in the house’s toilet, and Isamu Noguchi’s sculpture PYLON (2005) outside of the house. Its permanent collection also includes works by Western artists such as Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko, and Cindy Sherman, among others.

Speaking of the museum’s closure, Nara tweeted after making his final visit on December 5, 2020, “It is a space of profound memories and meanings to me as I have presented my own solo exhibition there in the past. What’s floating in this space, however, is not sadness, but a sense of relief as if it has finally completed its tasks and its role.”

The Gunma branch, Hara Museum ARC was established by Foundation Arc-en-Ciel in 1988 in a Arata Isozaki-designed building by Mount Haruna. The museum has been closed for renovations from November 4, 2020, and will reopen in April this year. Further details about the reopening are yet to be announced.

Pamela Wong is ArtAsiaPacific’s assistant editor. 

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