It’s 1984. I’m 21 years old, on my first trip to Europe, determined to visit all the artwork I’d read about in my college art history textbooks. The problem:  my favorite art is so spread out!  The Mona Lisa is in Paris.  The Guernica is in Madrid.   Botticelli’s Venus is in Florence.   If only I could see all of western art in one place?!!

Problem solved, thanks to the amazing Otsuka Museum in Naruto, Shikoku, Japan.  In one sprawling, five-story building, you can see pretty much ALL of the greatest works of the western world, and you won’t need 20 passport stamps to do it.  Okay, it’s not the real artwork.  (Quibblers!)   25 years back, the Otsuka Ohmi Ceramic Works came up with a brilliant solution.  Photograph the original painting, transfer it to a ceramic board, touch it up a little bit, and voila.  A high-quality copy of the Mona Lisa is now in Japan, along with all of Van Gogh’s sunflowers, and Monet’s water lilies — as bright and vibrant as the originals, without any fading or wear and tear.   As they describe it on their website:

“Above all, as ceramics these paintings will not be affected by time. As the original works gradually change, fifty years or a century from now their colors and forms will naturally differ from those of the ceramic reproductions. We established this museum of ceramic plate reproductions with the intent of conveying their true appearance for eternity, preserving them as a legacy for future generations.” 

To be honest, I had low expectations for the Otsuka Museum. On first glance, it all seemed like a bunch of cheap cultural appropriation, an excuse for the Japanese to never leave their bubble.  Boy was I wrong.  This museum is absolutely brilliant!    As I wander from gallery to gallery, I quickly forget that these are reproductions.  In my mind, I’m seeing the real Rembrandt’s Night Watch…with no glass barrier, no eagle-eyed security guard. I can step up close to the painting, squinch my eyes and study the brushwork.   The same for Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and so many other of my favorite paintings.  I’m seeing them all up close and personal, for a mere $20!   And that was before I walked into the museum’s full-scale reproduction of the Sistine Chapel!

I imagined staying at the Otsuka Museum for maybe an hour or so.  Instead, I lingered for over 4 hours and had to drag myself away!   My biggest take away:  Get over your assumptions!   Go into every experience with an open mind.   Snobbery is for suckers!

Seeing the Da Vinci’s Last Supper, Munch’s The Scream and Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe prints – all in one day.  That’s a gigantic Wow!