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  • Mar 31, 2011

Tohoku-Kanto Earthquake Hits Japanese Art Community

A view of the entrance hall at Art Tower Mito, Japan, showing damage caused by the Tohoku-Kanto Earthquake. Courtesy Mito Arts Foundation.

The massive earthquake and tsunami that struck northeastern Japan on March 11 has devastated the nation, resulting in over 9,500 deaths and 16,000 people missing across multiple prefectures. The most powerful earthquake to hit Japan in recorded history has significantly affected the nation’s art community, which is attempting to recover its losses, while also showing support to the victims of the natural disaster.

The Agency of Cultural Affairs announced on March 14 that over 30 cultural properties have suffered varying degrees of damage caused by the earthquake and tsunami. 

In Sendai, a major city located in one of the worst affected prefectures, the Sendai Mediatheque, an art and media center designed by renowned architect Toyo Ito, is currently considered too dangerous for people to enter. Though the structure is still standing, “the windows have been smashed, the ceilings of the upper floors have collapsed, and the floors have flooded because of damage to the sprinkler system,” said a representative of the municipal government, who went on to explain that, due to the extent of the damage and the evacuation of Sendai, no plans have been made yet for the center’s repair and reopening.

At Art Tower Mito, located in the city of Mito in Miyagi prefecture, another area greatly impacted by the earthquake, some of its windows, as well as the ceilings of its galleries, were damaged. (The museum has posted images of some of its facilities’ damages on its website.) On March 19, Art Tower Mito released a statement announcing the cancelation of its scheduled programming through the end of June, and the indefinite closing of its facilities while it undergoes “maintenance and security inspections.”

Meanwhile, in the nation’s capital, closures include this year’s GEISAI—the twice-yearly art festival organized by artist Takashi Murakami and his studio Kaikai Kiki. The festival, which was set to open on March 13, was at first postponed, then officially cancelled on March 22, after a week of discussions raised concerns among the festival’s executive committee and affiliated parties about the safety of rescheduling. In lieu of the festival, Murakami has called out to GEISAI would-be participants, fans and the general online community to create messages and artwork that express support for the earthquake and tsunami victims, and upload them on Twitter with the hashtag “#newday_GEISAI.” The festival committee has assembled the twitter messages and artworks in a special blog, which lists hundreds of contributions.

Several other organizations in Tokyo have decided to cancel or postpone its major art events, citing similar reasons as GEISAI. On March 17, Fumio Nanjo, the committee chairman of “Roppongi Art Night”—an annual two-day extravaganza of art events and exhibitions held throughout the district of Roppongi—announced the festival’s cancelation due to “issues with electricity, the continuing aftershocks and other associated factors.” Less than a week later, Art Fair Tokyo (AFT) released a notice of postponement of their event, which was to take place from April 1 to 3, after the city government designated AFT’s venue, the Tokyo International Forum, as an emergency shelter for evacuees affected by the earthquake. The fair is now scheduled for July 29 to 31.

Many commercial art galleries closed the day after the earthquake, including Gallery Koyanagi, Mizuma Art Gallery and Tomio Koyama Gallery, mostly as a safety measure against the aftershocks that occurred repeatedly during the following week. Additionally, the shortage of food supplies, fear of radiation exposure and the need to conserve energy also led to a large number of venues to suspend operations temporarily. 

Several galleries and art organizations are now focusing on supporting victims of the earthquake and tsunami. Taka Ishii Gallery is currently showing a special exhibition called “NOART” (March 20–April 28), which features a single donation box placed in the center of the gallery, encouraging visitors to contribute to the Japanese Red Cross Society relief fund. Renowned Japanese architect Shigeru Ban has also announced plans to design simple and economical partitions for the refugees at evacuation centers in the most affected areas, and is currently raising funds for the project. 

The international art community has also reached out in support of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami victims. In New York, “Bye Bye Kitty!!! Between Heaven and Hell in Contemporary Japanese Art,” a group show of emerging and mid-career contemporary Japanese artists, opened at the Japan Society a week after the disaster. The Japan Society subsequently announced that it would donate half of the ticket sales of the exhibition, and all other events at the cultural center until June 30, to a special earthquake relief fund. The organization is also putting together “Concert for Japan,” a 12-hour charity fundraiser on April 9, featuring live entertainment by Philip Glass, Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, Ryuichi Sakamoto and other musicians.

ArtAsiaPacific recommends donating to the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami Relief of your local Red Cross chapter, but we have also put together a list of several reputable relief agencies and donation projects for your consideration.

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