Roppongi art festival to mark end of party?

by Edan Corkill

When the all-night outdoor art extravaganza Roppongi Art Night kicks off at 5:59 p.m. — sunset — on Saturday, it will represent the realization of many different goals long held by many different people.

Soon after the Mori Art Museum opened within the Roppongi Hills development in 2003, people were looking ahead to 2007, when it would be joined nearby by the National Art Center, Tokyo, and the Suntory Museum of Art, in the Midtown development. When all three museums opened, people thought, they would surely get together to hold some big art event that would firmly establish the night-club mecca of Roppongi as Tokyo’s new cultural center. Those expectations were expressed in the pages of major newspapers, meetings within the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and in action plans within Minato Ward.

At the center of it all was Fumio Nanjo, then deputy director, now director, of the Mori. In his capacity as Roppongi Art Night Organizing Committee chairperson, he explained how expectations for Roppongi resulted in the upcoming event.

“So there were three museums,” he said. “The first thing everyone said was, ‘Why don’t you do an exhibition together?’ ” It didn’t take long to realize that this was a more difficult proposition than it sounded. Exhibition schedules are determined by a number of factors, from shipping schedules to the timing with which the institution’s budget is finalized.

“We realized it was all but impossible to synchronize the exhibitions’ calendars of three institutions of such a size,” Nanjo said. What would be possible was “a short-term event that would take place outside the museums,” he explained.

Enter the French Embassy. Nuit Blanche is a one-night-only art event that has been held each year in Paris since 2002. With copycat events spreading worldwide — some called by translations of “Nuit Blanche,” others not — the embassy proposed Tokyo hold something similar.

“The idea fit our needs perfectly,” said Nanjo. “Holding it for just one night meant we were limiting our expenditure in maintenance and security costs. If you were to do something like this for a month it would take enormous energy.”

Nanjo’s focus on the logistic aspects of the event is an indication of the difficulty in getting anything like this off the ground in Tokyo, where every inch of public space seems to be controlled by a different bureaucracy. Even something as simple as replacing illuminated panels with photo collages in a walkway under Roppongi-dori proved difficult. After the idea was initially rejected (on the grounds that it was a public road) Nanjo himself had to get involved in the political jockeying to get it through.