ARTnewsletter Archive

Artists, Institutions Explore Ways To Help Japan Disaster Victims

Japanese artists, galleries and museums are doing their best to rebuild in the aftermath of the Tohoku disaster.

TOKYO—Japanese artists, galleries and museums are doing their best to rebuild in the aftermath of the Tohoku disaster.

The major arts and multipurpose cultural center closest to the stricken area, architect Toyo Ito’s Sendai Mediatheque, shook violently during the 9.0-magnitude earthquake. While it remains closed pending damage assessment and safety evaluations, Mediatheque officials believe the building is structurally sound. The same can be said of Arata Isozaki’s Art Tower Mito in Ibaraki Prefecture and its 328-foot, titanium-clad serpentine tower.

The Aomori Museum of Art canceled its Jun Aoki and Hiroshi Sugito exhibition, which was scheduled to run April 23-June 12. The Iwate Museum of Art has canceled its exhibitions through May 2011, while keeping the permanent collection open to the public.

Located about 150 miles south of the epicenter, Tokyo escaped the brunt of the earthquake and tsunami destruction. In the capital, it is the emerging need for energy conservation that has resulted in the cancellation or scaling back of art activities.

Organizers of Art Fair Tokyo, originally scheduled for April 1-3, sent an e-mail three days after the earthquake, announcing their intention to proceed as scheduled. A week later, with the venue, the Tokyo International Forum, pressed into service as an evacuation center, the fair was postponed. Finally, on March 29, it was announced Art Fair Tokyo will be held July 29-31, with hours of operation reduced to conserve energy.

Takashi Murakami said he was “wrought with disappointment,” at the decision to cancel his art fair, GEISAI—in which artists present their work directly to the public—and encouraged artists to participate in a virtual exhibition project “with the theme of providing encouragement to the victims and those who have despaired.”

Some Tokyo auction houses canceled or postponed events. Most Tokyo galleries and museums closed for a few days after the earthquake, before announcing postponements or cancellations. Roentgenwerke AG canceled its Isshin Tanisaki one-man show.

The Mori Art Museum postponed the opening of “French Window: Looking at Contemporary Art through the Marcel Duchamp Prize,” and “MAM Project 014: Taguchi Yukihiro” from March 18 to March 26.

“As a mission, the museum should be a place that encourages many…to enrich their lives spiritually, thereby [we] decided to open the exhibitions,” the Mori said in a March 25 e-mail, noting that some works would not arrive in Japan in time for the opening of “French Window”.

On April 12, the Mori Museum announced plans for a fundraising auction, The Great East Japan Earthquake Charity Art Sale, to be held on April 16-17. Featuring works by roughly twenty artists from all over the world, including Yoko Ono, the proceeds from the sale and funds raised at the venue will be donated to disaster victims through the Japanese Red Cross Society.

With participation from seven other galleries in the Kiyosumi complex, the Koyama Gallery will hold a “Silent Art Auction in Kiyosumi for East Northern Japan,” also on April 14-16, with proceeds going to the relief agency, Japan Platform. Information on bidding from overseas can be found at

The Hara Museum of Contemporary Art closed for a week to “ensure safety” and reduce energy consumption. On April 2 the Hara reopened with reduced lighting and shorter operating hours.

New York-born, Tokyo-based Jeff Chiedo’s Motus Fort Gallery has pledged to channel its 2011 profits toward direct assistance to provide tuition, housing and studio grants for artists, and is organizing a New York exhibition to support the initiative.

Says Chiedo: “The artists are contributing various percentages of their sales, thus we are acquiring better works for higher effect. Our focus on fundraising is on the art buyer who has the means to make a noticeable difference, and get a quality piece of art for their effort.”

A number of grassroots art groups across Japan are also helping Tohoku in various ways including loading vans with art supplies and driving to affected areas to distribute the materials to children staying in evacuation centers.