Following up on my recent post on the relatively current controversy over a new director of the Okinawa Prefectural Museum, I’ve just come across and begun reading an article from several years ago, discussing the planning and proposals that went into organizing and establishing this new Okinawa Prefectural Museum back in 2007.
Left: The opening page of the section of the Jan 2008 issue of Bijutsu Techô, including several very brief articles on various aspects of the Okinawa art scene.
I’m sure there is still a great deal to the narrative that I am missing, but thought I would share just an overview/summary of what I’ve found from this article, entitled 「紆余曲折の果てに」 (uyokyokusetsu no hate ni, “At the End of Twists and Turns”), written by Prof. Kobayashi Junko of the Okinawa Prefectural University of the Arts, and published in the prominent arts periodical Bijutsu Techô (vol 60, issue 903), January 2008.
In my original research about the museum a year and a half ago, I searched for news articles or other materials that might provide insights into any kind of controversies or conflicts that might have occurred surrounding the planning and design of the museum. Admittedly, I didn’t look very hard, or very widely or deeply, but the places I did look – mainly the Okinawan newspapers Ryukyu Shimpo and Okinawa Times – I didn’t find anything. Why I didn’t read this Bijutsu Techô article earlier, even though I had it in hand, I don’t know. … Of course, I should have expected that museum would not discuss such things in its own publications, but only put a positive PR spin on everything, hiding any controversies or conflicts and pretending everything is sunny all the time always. But what I didn’t know, or think to investigate, and am just learning now, is that the private company Okinawa Bunka no Mori (lit. “Okinawa Forest of Culture”) which was appointed to administer and operate the museum is a sister company, or otherwise closely related somehow, to the Okinawa Times newspaper. As the Bijutsu Techô article reveals, “the Okinawa Times newspaper, from that point on, did not report problems as problems, but was intent on fanning a celebratory mood…” （「沖縄タイムス紙はこの時期から問題を問題として報じることなく、ひたすら祝祭ムードを煽るだけ。。。」）。
As it turns out, there was some controversy involved in the planning stages of the museum’s (re-)organization, as one would expect there to be when such things are organized by a government bureaucracy, and not by arts/museum people. I don’t know when or where things started, or what might have happened in earlier stages, but in May 2006, about a year and a half before the museum would open, the prefectural government organized a “committee to discuss how the New Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum* should be” (沖縄県立博物館新館・美術館のあり方を語る会), without a single arts/museum specialist on the committee. The director of the museum had already been chosen at this point, and would, in the end, be Makino Hirotaka, a banker and former Okinawa Lt. Governor.
It was at this time that certain decisions were made regarding the name of the museum, which in the end dropped the “contemporary” (現代) from “contemporary art museum” (現代美術館), and which decided to connect the words hakubutsukan and bijutsukan with a nakakuro, or floating black dot, like so: 博物館・美術館。 As we don’t use this particular mark in English, I can’t really say what kinds of pros or cons might have come up, or what sort of meanings the use of this instead of some other phrasing implies.
Indeed, outside of conflict over whether the museum would be administered by a private firm created for the purpose, or by an already existing private firm (they eventually went with the latter), the article, sadly, does not address any specifics at all as to what the content of any other conflicts or controversy may have been.
To summarize what is discussed in the article, arts organizations petitioned for more direct control of the museum, i.e. that it should be controlled directly by the prefectural government as it had been before, and not by a private company, going so far as to organize a symposium, attended by roughly 200 citizens, “to discuss the art museum problem.” Still, the prefecture showed no interest at all in compromise, and shut down, or ignored, the curators’ objections and differing opinions, putting forth the proposal, as it stood, to the prefectural legislature. The majority party, which supported the proposal, including the scheme to incorporate the museum’s administration under the private firm Bunka no Mori, and the opposition party, which opposed it, confronted one another head-on, but in the end, it ended without any real debate occurring, and the proposal passed.
Eventually, in November 2007, the new Okinawa Prefectural Museum opened. Kobayashi concludes the article criticizing those who run the museum (i.e. the prefectural gov’t and Bunka no Mori, i.e. not museum professionals) for not running the opening at it should have been done. She writes that it “went as expected” (「予想されたとはいえ」), i.e. “as planned”, and describes it as “chaos” (「大混乱である。」). I am not sure what this opening consisted of, but Kobayashi lists out the things that it did not consist of – things that would happen at any other museum opening, and with good reason; things that ought to have happened here and didn’t. There was no private viewing or reception for people involved in the planning, funding, organization, or production of the new museum & its exhibits. There was no press conference. And, so, “a voice of protest rose up from those related to [the project].” While the permanent exhibits were ready to go, the special exhibition planned specifically for the opening did not open on time, a failure which was blamed on “Okinawa Time” or “teegee” (テーゲー); by chance, I have a copy of the catalog for that exhibition in front of me, and though it says in it that the exhibition opened November 1, a date presumably put in there, and the catalogs printed long before whatever delays actually set in, I am pretty sure that when I visited five months later, yes, a full five months later, the exhibition was not there. Oh, wait, never mind. It was scheduled to close at the end of February and I got there in March. So, in the end, actually, I don’t know how late it opened.
In any case, one would think that Japanese government and private corporations would have their act together when it comes to bureaucratic pomp & circumstance such as an opening – organizing press conferences, receptions, and the like should be what they do best. Yet, somehow, they completely failed to do it at all.
It is interesting, and somewhat disappointing, to learn of these kinds of administrative controversies and failures. But, ultimately, what I am actually interested in remains the question of what curators and other museum professionals, professional historians, and art world people think (or thought) of the *content* of the exhibitions, and the way Okinawan history is portrayed, especially vis-a-vis Japan and the United States. Though I know that getting anyone to speak purely openly and frankly about this directly to me, in an interview, is pretty much a pipe dream, I continue to keep my eyes open and my hopes up for an article that addresses *those* potential controversies.
The article chiefly discussed in this post can be found on pp108-109 of Bijutsu Techô 美術手帖. vol 60, issue 903, Jan 2008. However, the same issue of Bijutsu Techô includes a number of other articles also discussing the museum and the art scene in Okinawa more broadly, as well as including a number of wonderful full-color images. If you are interested in the current art scene in Okinawa, and issues pertaining to the museum, I would recommend getting your hands on this issue.
*The English phrase “Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum” sounds really awkward, and even the Japanese-language publication Bijutsu Techô acknowledges this. Yet, because of the way the Japanese language words for types of museums work, with the word bijutsukan (美術館) meaning “art museum,” and the word hakubutsukan (博物館) referring to pretty much any other kind of museum, e.g. folk culture museum, history museum, natural history museum, science museum, but not including the meaning of “art museum,” in Japanese, this is pretty much how the institution has to be named. It is the Okinawa Hakubutsukan *and* Art Museum. … Now, the nuance of difference of meaning between the ‘native’ Japanese word hakubutsukan and the borrowed word myuujiamu (ミュージアム), i.e. just the Japanese pronunciation of the English word “museum”, is another story altogether, and I don’t really know how that fits or works.
(Hmm. My next post will be my 400th one. I ought to come up with something good, and special…)