Japan’s most expensive museum is full of fake art

Better than the real thing.
Better than the real thing.
Image: Otsuka Museum of Art
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In the Otsuka Museum of Art, the fact that nothing in its entire collection of art is original is part of the charm. The museum in northeastern Japan houses over a thousand replicas of iconic art works: Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” all of Rembrandt’s self portraits, and a full-size reproduction of the Sistine Chapel.

Besides giving Japanese visitors a chance to see masterpieces too delicate to be transported abroad—like Picasso’s “Guernica” which never leaves the Museo Nacional in Madrid—Otsuka offers a certain kind of preservation. The paintings are reproduced, in original size and color, on ceramic panels that don’t fade over time.

“It is said, when it dies, a tiger leaves its skin behind; a human leaves his name,” the museum’s first director, Masahito Otsuka, said in a speech on the museum’s founding. “The humans who have been able to leave their name are extremely few, but anyone of us may certainly leave, forever, his image on a portrait ceramic boards.” Otsuka had the idea to recreate art on ceramic panels after seeing a faded photograph of Nikita Khrushchev on his grave in Russia.

Image for article titled Japan’s most expensive museum is full of fake art
Image: Otsuka Museum of Art

While most museums in Japan are either free or cost around ¥700 (about $6), admission into the Otsuka fee is a steep ¥3,100, which visitors say is the most expensive admission ticket for any museum in Japan. But the price may be worth it. Visitors to the 29,000 square meter (312,000 sq. ft) exhibition space, Japan’s largest, full of small, dimly lit exhibition rooms and high ceilings, are able to get up close to the replicas and even touch them. Visitors also credit the tour guides—including a small Japanese-speaking robot guide—for offering a pleasant viewing experience. (See more photos here.)

It’s not surprising that a Japanese museum of imitated art would do well. Japan is known not just for its faithful imitations of western culture, but for improving upon them. It may be much the same for the art in the Otsuka museum—just don’t tell Leonardo da Vinci.