Main entrance of museum | Photo by George Lloyd

The Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo

The Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo is one of Japan’s largest contemporary art museums. Between six and eight temporary exhibitions are held every year, but for me, its greatest attraction is its permanent collection, which focuses on works that spearheaded innovative trends in art in different periods.

Anthony Caro - The Tower of Discovery | Photo by George Lloyd

The Museum of Contemporary Art has works that span the modern and contemporary periods, but its real focus is Japanese art in the pre-war and post-war years. In 2005, it marked its 20th anniversary by closing for a large-scale renovation, reopening in March 2019. During that time, it expanded its collection, acquiring a number of works from the 1940s.

Among the museum’s most memorable works from the war years are the circle and line paintings of Onosato Toshinobu. Also well worth a look are the fluid, elegant, semi-abstract pencil drawings of human figures by Suematsu Masaki, who was detained as an enemy alien in France during the war. My favourite artist in the permanent collection is Nakamura Hiroshi. His work is figurative but highly stylised and bizarre. In works such as Sunagawa No. 5, he turns a sharp eye on the U.S. military presence in Japan. His later work was more surrealist, but always critical of the conformist drudgery of post-war Japan.

The works in the museum’s permanent collection date back to 1926, when the Tokyo Prefectural Art Museum first opened in Ueno Park. They were inherited by the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, which passed them on to the Museum of Contemporary Art when it first opened in 1995. Together with lots of other more recently acquired works, they form the backbone of the museum’s permanent collection.

Hirohiko Araki - The Wave Over Kanagawa | Photo by George Lloyd

Aside from the 5,400 works of art that in the museum’s collection, there’s also a library with around 270,000 books and reference materials related to art, a shop with a line-up of unique products made by artists, and a chic restaurant and cafe.

The Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo is in Kiba Park, about a mile east of the Sumida River. It’s open between 10am and 6pm on weekdays but is closed on Mondays. Be warned: it has a nasty habit of closing for extended periods – it is next due to be temporarily closed between February 17 and March 13, 2020.

Entry to the permanent collection is 500 yen for adults. Admission to temporary exhibitions are about 1500 yen, but there are discounts if you book in advance, and discounts for students. For more details, see the website here.

By - George Lloyd.