by John JervisMay 11, 2020
Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT) celebrated its grand reopening in late March 2019, almost three years after closing down to upgrade its equipment and improve its utility as a museum building. The renovation was the first major modernisation of the building since the museum's inauguration in 1995.
To mark the grand event, MOT held two concurrent exhibitions - one in its special exhibition galleries and one in its collection galleries - to display its collection on a large scale in the entire space of the museum.
The collection of MOT consists of more than 5,200 works in total. At its core are 3,000 pieces that were relocated to MOT upon its opening in 1995, from Ueno's Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum - a home for exhibitions of contemporaneous art since 1926. Distinguishing the collection are artworks of striking originality that captured attention in each era - works that looked in new directions and broke from conventional lineages of art history. With exhibits installed throughout the entire museum, this grand reopening presentation comprehensively re-examined the collection at MOT, the scope of which extended from avant-garde works of the pre and post-war years to contemporary works created in this century. To broadly inquire into MOT's significance as a museum that has examined the artistic endeavours of each successive era was a valuable undertaking at a time when the MOT was embarking anew.
A special exhibition, Weavers of Worlds: A Century of Flux in Japanese Modern/Contemporary Art surveyed the Japanese art in the past 100 years, from the 1910s to 2010s, through works mainly in the museum's collection. Its aim was to show how the artists, by taking a discerning critical perspective, had selected strands of already established and radically new styles and techniques, and woven their own distinctive worlds. From the 1920s era of Ryusei Kishida to the present day, artists in each generation had studied the issues specific to their time and created works that critically examined the ‘circumstances of Japanese art’. The exhibition took new perspectives on MOT's collection to substantiate the special character of its holdings - artworks acquired through exhibitions and investigative research, and archival materials held in the museum library. The MOT collection exhibition, meanwhile, focused on the collection's most recent additions and feature works acquired in the recent years.
In its narrative on modern and contemporary Japanese art, the exhibition did not situate the artists in the context of a static view of history; instead, it looked at the particular practice of the artist who, by selectively adopting elements, was able to arouse his subject. It furthermore displayed artworks whose subject matter was related to the Kiba district - where the museum is located - a community that has witnessed dramatic change in these 100 years. By surveying the artistically important works that punctuate Japanese modern/contemporary art history, in galleries on all three of the museum's floors, the exhibition profiled the history of one hundred years.
It was for the first time, then, that the entire special exhibition galleries on three floors were devoted to displaying the powerfully experimental works of this museum, dating from 1910 to the present, from the perspective of their connection with the art of today.