Japanese disasters lead to cancelled exhibitions

Lenders deterred by inadequate climate control and radiation fears

Published on 4 May 2011

Author(s): The Art Newspaper/Georgina Adam

Type:  News Issue issue 224, May 2011

Due to electricity shortages museum hours have been curtailed by an hour some days, and by three hours on late-night Fridays

The combination of earthquakes, tsunami and damage to the Fukushima nuclear plant has had a dramatic effect on museums in Japan. Immediately after the 11 March earthquake, national museums were closed for one week, and while they have now re-opened, due to electricity shortages their hours have been curtailed by an hour some days, and by three hours on late-night Fridays.

Spring is traditionally a time when museums open special shows, but many have been adversely affected. An exhibition from Moscow’s Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, “300 Years of French Paintings”, which was due to be shown at the Yokohama Museum (2 April-26 June), has been axed. Loans from Bologna’s Morandi Museum to the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art have been withdrawn, so blocking “Giorgio Morandi” (initially 9 April-29 May) for this year at least.

The French authorities, according to a posting to the International Council of Museums’ (Icom) discussion list by Professor Eiji Mizushima of the Museum of Museology in Ibaraki, have forbidden the export of art to Japan, affecting Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum’s “Birth of the Impressionist School” (initially 5 April-12 June), and Yamanashi Prefectural Art Museum’s “Maurice Denis” (cancelled; initially 14 April to 12 June).

“Segantini”, a loan exhibition from the Segantini Museum, St Moritz, at the Togo Seiji Museum in Shinjuku (29 April-3 July) has been postponed and will now be held in the autumn, although the first two legs of the show, in the south of Japan, are going ahead as planned.

Many other smaller shows have also been cancelled or postponed. The problem is one of conservation: as Japan is suffering power cuts and shortages, foreign lenders are reluctant to risk uncontrolled changes in temperature and humidity.

Another concern is radiation, said Mario Haefliger at the Segantini Museum. “We wouldn’t be able to show a painting for years if it had been exposed to radiation in Japan.”

The cancellations are a further blow to museums already suffering from a drop in visitor numbers. “Since we have big or small scale earthquakes two or three times a day, every day, people stay at home,” said Tokyo resident Natsuo Miya¬shita. “So people do not feel like visiting museums at the moment.”

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