Moomins venture to Japan


Tove Jansson’s Moomin characters have long been favorites in Japan, where some of her original art and models are making a rare visit. Delivering them required careful planning and coordination between a museum and three companies, including Finnair.

To honor Finnish author-illustrator Tove Jansson’s centennial, some of her original Moomin artwork and models are touring Japan. The Tampere Art Museum, which has cared for Jansson’s artistic legacy since her death in 2001, arranged the traveling show with a Japanese partner. The year-long tour began in Tokyo in April 2014.

“We’ve had very good reactions to the contents of the exhibition, the catalogue and the merchandise items,” says the show’s Japanese coordinator, Masahiko Konatsu. “Some 138,000 people visited the exhibition within the first three weeks.”

“People – especially women – are interested in these cute characters,” observes Konatsu. “The public have been particularly enjoying the variations in Moomintroll’s face, figure and colors.”

Beloved characters

“The reactions have been enthusiastic,” says Elina Bonelius,
 Chief Curator of Tampere Art Museum Moominvalley. “We’re so happy that the Japanese have found our exhibition and enjoyed it. Our collaborator, Toei Company, had the idea of showing Moominvalley’s nature – and Finland’s nature as well – to the Japanese people. That was the guiding principle in this exhibition.”
A Japanese television channel independently made an anime series loosely based on the Moomin characters in 1969. “It became very successful, and Moomin have been very popular here in Japan since then,” says Konatsu.
In 1990, a new Japanese-Finnish-Dutch animated series was created with Jansson’s blessing. The show turned ‘Moomin’ into a household name in many countries – as did a cartoon strip first published in Britain in 1953. There have also been other TV, film and theater productions, along with about a dozen original Moomin books.

Extraordinary pen strokes 

Many of the nearly 200 works now touring Japan were made for these books. Most are pen-and-ink drawings, accompanied by gouache paintings and a statue of Moomintroll.
“Some of the most humble little works are just wonderful, when you have an opportunity to stop and admire their skilfulness and extraordinary pen strokes,” notes Bonelius. “On the other hand, some of the colorful works of art are just beautiful – for instance, the one where Moomintroll is getting excited by the first rays of sun in midwinter, and Little My is very much wondering about his behaviour. The work is so revealing for those who have read the story.”
What then were some of the challenges in sending them?
“Most of the works are fragile, especially those painted with gouache,” says Bonelius. “The color easily peels off the paper, so we have to carefully consider which ones we can send out for a tour. All the works are individually packed in bubble wrap and custom-made crates. The crates must be handled with care and packed so as to create the least distress possible. Any original works of art that leave the museum are accompanied by a courier, usually one of our curators or conservators.”

Smooth timing

Anne Eriksson, Fine Art Coordinator at the forwarding company Crown Worldwide, says the advance planning took about six months.
“Timing was perhaps the biggest challenge, but everything went smoothly with no big surprises,” she says. “The works were packed in seven crates weighing a total of 440 kilos. We transported them in our fine-art truck from Tampere to Helsinki, and from there on the direct Finnair flight to Tokyo. We had very good cooperation with both the Tampere Art Museum and Finnair.”
In Helsinki, a major retrospective of Jansson’s work at the Ateneum Art Museum runs through September 7th. This jubilee year, there are also exhibitions and events all over Europe and even as far afield as Kenya and Australia. 
Moomins on tour in Japan
Nanak, Morioka, 10 May - 8 Jun
Yonago City Museum of Art, 14 Jun - 13 Jul
Marui Imai, Sapporo, 23 Jul - 4 Aug
Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum, Osaka, 8 Aug - 6 Sep
Yonezawa City Uesugi Museum, 13 Sep - 26 Oct
Abeno Kintetsu, Osaka, 11 - 25 Dec
Miyazaki Art Centre, Miyazaki, 2 Jan - 15 Feb 2015
Okayama Prefectural Museum of Art, 20 Mar - 19 Apr 2015
Matsuzakaya Art Museum, Nagoya, 25 Apr - 17 May 2015
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Text by Wif Stenger
Photos by Jari Kuusenaho/Tampere Art Museum


Published May 15, 2014

Category: Collaboration