Posted:Dec 26, 2011

Tohoku-Kanto Earthquake and Tokyo Art World

The response in the Tokyo art scene to the March 11th disaster.

Event changes

Almost immediately, as we reported on our Twitter feed, a lot of major galleries and museums closed the day after the Tohoku-Kanto earthquake and tsunami hit. This was partly for safety as aftershocks continued and sometimes to repair damage. The uncertainty we have seen in some food supplies, (largely unfounded) radiation fears and the urgent need to conserve energy also led to large numbers of venues — possibly a majority of galleries — closing for most of the week following the earthquake.

Many have reopened since yesterday (Monday, March 21), especially commercial galleries, but some events have even been permanently cancelled or postponed, including most notably the annual large-scale extravaganza that is “Roppongi Art Night”. “Cloud Cities” by Tomas Saraceno at Maison Hermès has been postponed until further notice.

At time of writing, however, “Art Fair Tokyo 2011”, the biggest event in the local art calendar, is set to go ahead as planned from the start of April. *UPDATE: It has now been announced that “Art Fair Tokyo” is postponed! Currently it is re-scheduled for July 29 to 31.* This was due to the unavailability of the venue, Tokyo International Forum, as refugees are using it for shelter.

Galleries such as Yukari Contemporary have decided to hold exhibitions without reception parties and also not to have any events through the summer, in order to save electricity on air-conditioning during the humid season.

Wako Works of Art changed its exhibition plans and instead poignantly held Noritoshi Hirakawa’s “In Reminiscence of the Sea”, a series of photographs that feature nuclear power plants.

“ArtGigTokyo”, the twelve-hour performance art and music event in Shinjuku, will now be held on May 8.

Charitable efforts

The biggest announced response from a major gallery so far has been Taka Ishii Gallery‘s decision to hold a special exhibition from March 20 to April 28. The “No Art” show will, as the title suggests, feature no works of art on display but just a donation box for visitors to give money to the Japanese Red Cross Society. The planned Marijke van Warmerdam solo exhibition has been postponed.

Art writer Kiki Kudo led the way here, setting up a charity auction in Bakurocho on March 19. Zen Foto Gallery and Tobin Ohashi Gallery have both organized separate charity sales, and many rental galleries have responded by offering donations for works sold. Likewise, until the end of March all sales of the book Art Space Tokyo were donated to relief efforts.

Architect Shigeru Ban has also announced that he plans to contribute partitions for refugees at evacuation centres in the afflicted areas, much as he helped victims of the Kobe Hanshin earthquake in 1995. He is now collecting donations for this project.

Spiral hosted a mini art fair called “Power of Art” (April 5 to 20), with dozens of works for sale priced between 100 yen and over 200 thousand. There were also free dance performances and talk events on many days, with audiences encouraged to make donations in lieu of paying for tickets.

Galleries in Kiyosumi helped organize the “Silent Art Auction” (April), a non-competitive bidding auction. Works were also on display at Tomio Koyama Gallery in the Kiyosumi Complex and you could bid in person or through the website. Auctioned artworks included those by Kishin Shinoyama, Tomoko Yoneda, Yoko Ono and Mika Ninagawa. It raised 38.5 million yen, donated to Japan Platform.

Over the same weekend in April the Mori Art Museum had its own Charity Art Sale involving over twenty artists from around the world.

This is still an evolving situation; this article will be updated but also check TAB’s tweets for the latest news as it emerges.

William Andrews

William Andrews

William Andrews came to Japan in 2004. He first lived in Osaka, where he was a translator for Kansai Art Beat. Arriving in Tokyo in 2008, he now works as an writer, editor and translator. He writes a blog about Japanese radicalism and counterculture and one about Tokyo contemporary theatre. He is the author of Dissenting Japan: A History of Japanese Radicalism and Counterculture, from 1945 to Fukushima.