Hiroshima Art Space Addresses City’s Historic Past

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art is located halfway up Mt. Hiji in Minami Ward, Hiroshima.

HIROSHIMA — The Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, which exhibits art unique to the atomic-bombed city, reopened in March following its first extensive renovation since its opening in 1989.

The number of visitors to a special exhibition held from March 18 through June 18 to commemorate the renovations exceeded 30,000 for the first time in 26 years. The museum, which has evolved over the years, is making its presence felt not only in Hiroshima but throughout the nation.

The museum is located halfway up Mt. Hiji, about 70 meters above sea level, overlooking the city of Hiroshima. When it opened in May 1989, it was the nation’s first public contemporary art museum.

Courtesy of Kisho Kurokawa Architect & Associates
The late Kisho Kurokawa

It was designed by Kisho Kurokawa (1934-2007), one of Japan’s leading postwar architects. It has two stories above ground and two below, and parts of the building are made of stones exposed to the bombing. The slit in the circular roof of the plaza points in the direction of the bomb’s hypocenter.

Throughout the building, the “philosophy of symbiosis” that Kurokawa advocated throughout his life is expressed. Building materials change from natural stone to tile, aluminum and other artificial materials toward the top of the building, expressing the development of civilization and the flow of time from the past to the future.

Kurokawa received a prize from the Architectural Institute of Japan for the museum, and the facility became one of his signature works.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The museum has collected artworks based on three policies: Works that are important in showing the flow of contemporary art since World War II; works that show the relationship between Hiroshima as an atomic-bombed city and contemporary art; and excellent works by young artists with potential.

Currently, the museum houses about 1,700 works. It has focused on showing contemporary art created in the process of the reconstruction of Hiroshima. The collection includes the work of renowned artist Taro Okamoto (1911-96). His large wall painting “Asu no Shinwa” (Myth of Tomorrow) was placed with the museum in 2008.

Fashion designer Issey Miyake and artist Yoko Ono are among those who have expressed their thoughts on peace at the museum.

In 2015, the Hiroshima city government formulated a redevelopment plan for Hijiyama Park, the park where the museum stands, with the vision of turning the park into a “hill of peace” that blends nature with culture. The plan also included the renovation of the museum.

After two years and three months of extensive renovations, the aging roof and floor of the museum were replaced, while respecting the original design. Elevators were added to enhance functionality. A glass-walled space was built, and a multipurpose room called “Mocamoca” was created for workshops and events. The cafe was relocated to a location with a view of outdoor sculptures.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The cafe has a view of outdoor sculptures at the museum.

“As an art museum in Hiroshima City, we cannot be independent of the notion of Hiroshima as an atomic-bombed city. The artists have taken that idea and expressed it in their own ways, and I am sure that you will find something that resonates with you or makes you think,” museum director Junji Teraguchi, 61, said. “We want to strive to manage the museum in a multifaceted manner without forgetting that this is a museum that bears the responsibility of existing in an international city of peace and culture.”

The museum has purchased postwar works on the theme of Hiroshima. It has also actively commissioned artists to create works.

The collection is not limited to works that address the tragedy of the bombing or the issue of nuclear weapons. It also includes a wide range of pieces that incorporate anti-violence messages or social issues. The museum commissioned a large number of works before the opening of the facility and for the 50th anniversary of the bombing in 1995, and about 130 such works were collected in total.

In the spaces for regularly held exhibitions of the collection, there is always a section dedicated to artworks about the city.

Among those on display in the “Collection Highlights” and “Collection Relations” shows, which will be held through Nov. 12, are “Water Mirror” and “Dome,” both created by Isamu Wakabayashi (1936-2003). The Atomic Bomb Dome is expressed in “Dome,” using a giant steel structure. “One Hand Prayer Project,” an object created by Tang Da Wu of Singapore in a prayer for peace, is also on display.

Courtesy of the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art
“Water Mirror” (1997), foreground, and “Dome” (1988), representing the Atomic Bomb Dome, both by Isamu Wakabayashi

The museum also hosts an award ceremony for the Hiroshima Art Prize, which is awarded by the city every three years to artists who have contributed to peace in the field of art, as well as an exhibition of the winning artists.

The 11th Hiroshima Art Prize went to Alfredo Jaar, a Chilean artist who created works using video and lighting on themes such as hibakusha, or atomic bomb survivors, and the 1994 Rwandan genocide. An exhibition featuring his works, including new creations, is being held at the museum through Oct. 15.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Works by Shirin Neshat

“Collecting artworks on Hiroshima is the mission of an art museum in an atomic-bombed city,” a museum official said.