Shut-down time by Satoru Nagoya
By the time this essay is published, Tokyo will have a new governor,
someone from six viable candidates - of whom all but one had
conservative platforms. According to polls conducted by the media
beginning of April, maverick Shintaro Ishihara was leading the race with
a considerable margin over runner-up Kunio Hatoyama, recommended by the
Democratic Party of Japan.
Whoever has become the new governor, he will face pressing challenges
like tackling financial difficulties, taking precautions against major
earthquakes and creating an ideal welfare system for the aged - as most
of the candidates actually suggested during their campaigns. For the
time being, however, there will be little chance for the governor to
show his wisdom in dealing with cultural policies, but depending on the
election's outcome Tokyo's art people will be affected by this
As shown in his polemic book co-authored 10 years ago, "The Japan That
Can Say No," Ishihara, a writer and a former transport minister, has a
leaning toward nationalism. Since his days as a Lower House member, he
has been regarded a hero of patriotic right-wingers who would like to
see the Yokota (U.S.) Air Base located on Tokyo's western outskirts
returned to the Japanese.
Ishihara campaigned 24 years ago for the gubernatorial office but
suffered a dramatic defeat by leftist Ryokichi Minobe. In line with the
liberals, Ishihara lately said, he would hand over many city-run
enterprises to the private sector, because private initiatives can
handle business often better than public officials do.
In terms of art enterprises this translates to whether the present
state- or city-run museums should become private organizations or not.
Museums under the auspices of the Tokyo metropolitan government, such as
the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT), may already be anticipating
the possible loss of public support in the near future. This could take
place after the planned "privatization" of state-run museums by 2001 (as
I wrote in the February Issue of PLANT).
Fears peaked when Chinpei Nozue (he withdrew his candidacy for governor
in early March) said he would shut down MOT if elected, an institution
with an annual deficit of nearly ¥2 billion. But not only candidates
like Nozue oppose the way how city-museums are run nowadays. When I
asked some art critics how they felt about his proposal, they
categorically said: "Oh, I hope they will shut down MOT immediately!"
(probably disapproving MOT's curatorial policies).
If Ishihara was elected, the drive for privatizing MOT and other Tokyo
government-run museums will continue as it would with candidates like
Yoichi Masuzoe (a liberal) or Yasushi Akashi (a conservative.)
Eventually, the new confrontation in the art world will be over whether
the general public and government should protect art or if art should be
left to the goodwill of limited individual supporters. In the meantime,
where is art heading these days anyway? Bad examples have been seen in
exhibitions on feminism and the environment, where art was taken hostage
and misused under social and political pretexts.
I personally hope Ishihara will have won the race when you read this
column. He may do justice to the arts - more than Hatoyama, who put
forth this shameless slogan about a "romantic revolution for Tokyo."
What art today lacks is absolute individuality, independence and
strength - enough to keep itself free from yardsticks of a public easily
attracted by mediocrity.
(Ed. note: Ishikawa won the election handily)
Satoru Nagoya is a free-lance art journalist living in Tokyo.