Marunouchi Street Gallery, an art museum for the entire area

New Art Spot

“Trans-Double Yana(Mirror)” (2012) by Kohei Nawa

The Marunouchi Street Gallery is a project that exhibits works by masters of modern sculpture and internationally renowned contemporary artists along Tokyo’s Marunouchi Naka-dori Street. The project began in 1972 under the leadership of Mitsubishi Estate Co., Ltd. with the aim of enhancing the cultural power of Marunouchi. The individual works are replaced every few years, and the townscape scenery is renewed on a regular basis in conjunction with the neighborhood’s art spots, much to the delight of passersby. For the present article, we interviewed Hiroaki Sakamoto and Yuriko Saito of the Chokoku-no-Mori Art Foundation, who are supervising the project, about its background and aims.


Playing a part in shaping the image of the area

The Marunouchi Street Gallery is an attempt to evolve public art—artworks placed in public areas—in the Marunouchi area, which is the main gateway to Tokyo. The idea is to give people an opportunity to experience art appreciation close at hand as they stroll through the area. As the project marked its 50th anniversary in 2022, new works were installed for the first time in four years and some of the earlier works were replaced.
At the beginning of the project, there only were four or five sculptures, but the number of works has gradually increased, and currently there are 19 sculptures scattered along and around Marunouchi Naka-dori Street. “The 2002 renovation of the Marunouchi Building was a turning point of the project,” said Mr. Sakamoto. In the course of the development of the Marunouchi Building area, Marunouchi Naka-dori Street was widened and a new sidewalk was constructed, which led to an increase in the number of works. Moreover, the quality of the sculptures changed dramatically in accordance with the plan to create a space that would be accessible not only to office workers, but also to the general public, and to attract restaurants and brand-name stores to the lower floors of the buildings facing onto the street, which up to that time were occupied by offices.
Marunouchi has been pursuing urban development while keeping in mind that it is a “place for enhancing creativity” where new value is created, and the Marunouchi Street Gallery has played a major role in shaping the area’s image.

Mr. Sakamoto of the Chokoku-no-Mori Art Foundation explained the appeal of the Marunouchi Street Gallery, saying, “The sculptures can be enjoyed by viewing them from different angles throughout the 360-degree range. Also, unlike in white cube galleries, the view changes constantly depending on the surrounding scenery and the weather conditions. As a result, the appearance of the sculptures changes constantly and the view differs according to the time of day and the season. The other people walking around the works also serve as a backdrop, providing a different view every day, and ensuring that you will never get bored even if you visit the area 365 days a year.”

Yuriko Saito (left) and Hiroaki Sakamoto of the Chokoku-no-Mori Art Foundation

Replaceable public art

There are very few examples of public art in which the works of art are regularly replaced once they have been installed. The Marunouchi Street Gallery is a rare example of that in Japan. In the past, works were replaced every year, but some of the huge, heavy sculptures took about a month to install, so when the removal period was taken into account, the actual exhibition period of these works was only about 10 months. Due to concerns that the works would not make an impact on the local area, the replacement interval was first increased to once every two years, and currently the works are generally replaced approximately every three years. In the beginning, most of these works were on loan from the collection of the Chokoku-no-Mori Art Foundation. These days, however, more and more artists are being requested to create new works that match the image and theme of the street.
The 43rd Marunouchi Street Gallery, which has been on public view since June 2022, features a total of 19 works by contemporary artists including five brand new works, two works that have been continuously exhibited, and 12 replacement works. The artists who created the new works are Katsura Funakoshi, Michiko Nakatani, H&P. Chaguin, Kohei Nawa, and Takahiro Matsuo. Ms. Saito explained about the planning process for the present project, saying, “We selected the works in keeping with the theme of ‘the entire area as an art museum,’ where visitors can walk around the area as if they were inside a museum.”

Ichigokan Hiroba (Marunouchi Brick Square) in front of the Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum. On the right is “Water Unfolding” (1977) by Agustín Cárdenas.

A display that allows visitors to experience the area’s 50-year history

Mr. Sakamoto commented on the configuration of the display, “As we celebrate our 50th anniversary, we are presenting the exhibition in a way that shows representative works from the past half century from the 1960s to 2022. This is a lineup that we are able to propose precisely because we have been engaged in this project continuously over a long period of time. We have assembled a group of contemporary sculptors who are currently active on the frontlines of the field.” He continued, “Since urban development takes place over a certain period of time, public art in a given area is often biased toward the era when such development is ongoing, so it isn’t easy to find a mix of old and new works of art installed in the same area. When you see works from 50 years ago here alongside contemporary works, you should be able see that what is good is good, regardless of how old it is.”
Ms. Saito looked back over the preparation period when the participating artists were creating their new works and said, “For example, Katsura Funakoshi took on the new challenge of painting his bronze sculpture “I fly above the city” for the Marunouchi Street Gallery. He seemed to enjoy the task. I think the other artists who have created new works also enjoyed the idea of exhibiting their works in Marunouchi because it has a continuous 50-year history. They were all very positive about the project.”
People who work in the stores lining the street also look forward to seeing the artworks, which are replaced every few years. During the installation process, they sometimes ask to the installers about new works that are planned to go on display. The final location for each work is determined after making adjustments based on a variety of considerations, such as height limits, wind resistance, and compatibility with nearby tenants.

“I fly above the city” (2022) by Katsura Funakoshi (★)
“A Girl Who Carries a Small Fish Carefully and a Blue Bird Flying in Your Golden Sky” (2022) by Michiko Nakatani (★)
Both of the above are new works installed in 2022. They stand out on the street as they have been painted.

The continuously exhibited works are symbols of Marunouchi.

Yayoi Kusama’s “I am a pumpkin” is one of the two works on continuous display. “I am a pumpkin” is Kusama’s first stone sculpture, and was created for Marunouchi in 2013. This work by Kusama, a world-renowned artist, has become a symbol of the international business district.
The second of the two, Atsuhiko Misawa’s “Animal 2017-01-B2,” is located in front of Marunouchi Oazo, along a busy street extending from the Marunouchi North Exit of Tokyo Station. Mr. Sakamoto explained the reason for exhibiting this work continuously, describing it as “a very large work that people can easily see and become familiar with” and also as “a symbolic work.”

“I am a pumpkin” (2013) by Yayoi Kusama (★)
“Animal 2017-01-B2” (2017-2019)by Atsuhiko Misawa
Two works that are being exhibited continuously. Both have become symbols of Marunouchi. (★)

Management and maintenance

Because the works exhibited in the Marunouchi Street Gallery are located in public spaces where they are always open to the public, maintaining them can be a challenging task. Ordinarily, most public art tends to be displayed without maintenance after installation. However, Mr. Sakamoto says that thanks to Mitsubishi Estate’s safety procedures and response, managing the Marunouchi Street Gallery has been completely trouble-free, which is rare for such an outdoor exhibition. “Although the gallery occupies a public space, it is a very rare 1.2-kilometer stretch of public space where sculptures are exhibited under the same kind of management as they would be in an art museum.”

“Working Model for Sheep Piece” (1971) by Henry Moore

Ms. Saito said, “In addition to Mitsubishi Estate taking care of the artworks, we also regularly clean them once a month. Public art is susceptible to wear and tear due to environmental staining and deterioration of materials, but through the efforts we make, our artworks are always maintained in good condition.” When things such as graffiti and stickers are allowed to remain on a work, this precipitates a vicious circle in which other people will begin to treat the work in the same way. However, if the work is kept in a well-maintained condition, viewers will appreciate it with consideration, and it will remain neat and clean.

“Sleeping Head” (1983) by Igor Mitoraj

The Marunouchi Street Gallery serves as a hub for other art facilities and art events in the area, including Art Fair Tokyo held at the Tokyo International Forum, Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum Tokyo, CADAN Yurakucho, and Yurakucho Window Gallery. In addition, the gallery sometimes organizes events such as tours and workshops in collaboration with OPEN CITY MARUNOUCHI. Ms. Saito says, “If the Marunouchi Street Gallery is able to connect the different art spots in the neighborhood, then I think we have achieved our goal.”

Marunouchi Naka-dori Street is open to pedestrians as an Urban Terrace from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on weekdays and from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on weekends and holidays. During these hours, tables are set up and mobile kitchens open in the street, so visitors can enjoy a leisurely stroll under the beautiful roadside trees and take a break while appreciating the artworks. In addition, some of the works are lit up in the evening and can be fully enjoyed after dark. We invite you to take a stroll around the streets of Marunouchi in search of the sculptures that dot the area.

Map from the Marunouchi Street Gallery website

Japanese original text: Kyo Yoshida
Photo: Aya Hatakenaka (excluding ★)
Translation: Kae Shigeno

43rd Marunouchi Street Gallery
Exhibition period: June 2022-May 2025 (tentative schedule)
Locations: Marunouchi Naka-dori Street, Marunouchi Oazo, Otemachi Bldg.
Organizer: Mitsubishi Estate Co., Ltd.
Curatorial supervisor: Chokoku-no-Mori Art Foundation

Art Walk Yurakucho 2023
Hibiya, Yurakucho, and Marunouchi areas become the stage for a citywide gathering of cutting-edge contemporary art. During this special period, Art Fair Tokyo and a variety of other art events are concerned in the area.
Dates: March 8 (Wed.)-April 23 (Sun.), 2023
Organizers: Mitsubishi Estate Co., Ltd., Culture Vision Japan Foundation Inc.