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Open Minds

Art in Japan

Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum celebrates its 20th anniversary with ‘Our Ecology: Toward a Planetary Living’. The exhibition encourages visitors to think about environmental issues and discover how artists engage with the subject. The museum’s director, Mami Kataoka, tells us about this new show and Japan’s art scene. 


‘Our Ecology: Toward a Planetary Living’ at Mori Art Museum, Tokyo

How has contemporary art in Japan changed over the past two decades?
Not only in Japan but globally, the Western-centric idea of art has changed dramatically. We’re seeing so much non-Western art being produced in non-Western countries. That change coincided with the economic growth of regions such as China, India and Southeast Asia. International art festivals and art fairs have also launched in various places so there are more opportunities to encounter art. 

What can Japan contribute to contemporary art?
For me, it’s the history of the museums. The Ohara Museum of Art opened in 1930, The Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura – Japan’s first public modern art museum – opened in 1951 and The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, in 1952. Each development relates to Japan’s modernisation and industrialisation. And every institution has big collections, telling different stories in different places. I’d like to put them together and see what we have.


‘Our Ecology’ with Tokyo cityscape


The museum is atop Roppongi Hills Mori Tower

What do you see as the purpose of a museum in the modern world? 
Museums are expanding from places that collect, preserve and exhibit artefacts to more of a social institution. Every museum has to represent locality. Look at Tate and MoMA: two mega global museums but with very different collections and audiences. 

Why did you want to address climate change with this exhibition?
It’s one of the unavoidable and most pressing global issues. The future of the museum can’t be discussed without the climate crisis as well as all the intermingled connections between society, history, industry, the global economy, decolonisation and other issues surrounding us. 

What does the future hold? 
When I think about the next 20 years of Mori Art Museum, we need to work together with the younger generation. Sometimes adults underestimate young people and say they’re not interested in society. But I think they’re more conscious of the climate crisis and other significant social issues. Eighty per cent of our audience is under 40. We also have 770,000 followers on our social media platforms.


Director Mami Kataoka


Director’s vision: a global outlook
Mori Art Museum former chief curator Mami Kataoka became the director in 2020. In the same year, she was elected the first non-European president of the International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art (serving until 2022). “Some issues facing museum directors are specific to a region but others are common to everyone,” she says. A writer and lecturer, Kataoka has curated art exhibitions all over the world.




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