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Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

April 6, 2005

Toshio Hara ’60

Toshio Hara ’60 in front of a print by artist Jonathan Borofsky in the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art. (Hara Museum of Contemporary Art)

A passion for modern art
Toshio Hara ’60’s museum celebrates 25 years in Japan

Toshio Hara ’60 took only one art course at Princeton. “I almost failed,” he recalls. It was not the most promising start for a man who has become one of the most important forces in Japan’s art scene. Hara is the founder, director, and president of the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. Located in Tokyo’s Shinagawa district, the Hara Museum is the first museum in Japan to concentrate on post-1950 art.

But if Princeton didn’t turn him on to art, studying at the University gave him tools that Hara says changed his life. Princeton, he says, taught him “how to express myself immediately and clearly.” By contrast, traditional Japanese culture, he explains, values lack of specificity. “Japanese are generally shy,” he says, “and it takes time for them to express their true opinions.”

Hara already had graduated from Japan’s prestigious Gakushuin University before coming to Princeton, where he studied economics. He returned to Japan before graduating to enter the family business, which specialized in forestry, farming, lumber importing, and construction. But before long, he fell in with modern artists and collectors, and their passion rubbed off on him. “I began to feel that art is one very good way to express myself,” says Hara.

When he realized that Japan had no contemporary art museum, he convinced his family to convert into a museum the Western-style home built by his grandfather in the late 1930s. In 1979, the Hara Museum opened in the house, preserving one of the very few examples of 1930s modern architecture in Japan.

In its 25 years, the Hara Museum has exhibited and collected work in all realms: painting, graphics, sculpture, mobile art, kinetic art, performance, installations, photography, and multimedia.

At first, Hara collected works by internationally known artists, including Mark Rothko, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jackson Pollock, but he soon found himself priced out of this market. Today his museum focuses on discovering the work of young artists primarily from Asian countries. Says Hara, “I see my job as helping young artists by showing, collecting, and encouraging them.”

By Bruce Dunning ’62

Bruce Dunning ’62 is the former Asia bureau chief for CBS News.