The Hermitage has refused to lend glass pieces for a show that was scheduled to start on Dec. 23 and run for three months because of irradiation fears. “Gunma prefecture is right next to Fukushima prefecture and close to the scene of the nuclear accident,” stated the Hermitage. “There is a considerable danger that the exhibit will be subjected to radioactive contamination.” The show, however, will tour museums in Hokkaido, Tokyo and Okayama.
Radiation, even from natural sunlight, can radically change the color of glass. Older types of glass often used arsenic as an ingredient. When exposed to direct sunlight for protracted periods of time, the glass turns yellow. This can be seen in many of the headlights of older automobiles.
Even more widely used than arsenic was manganese to decolorize impurities in glass. When irradiated or exposed to direct sunlight for many years, the glass turns deep purple. Other chemicals in old glass may also change color when exposed to strong sunlight or irradiation.
Although representations were made through the Japanese Embassy in Moscow and experts called in, the Hermitage was adamant in its refusal.
Gunma Art Museum called the decision “most unfortunate.”
“We do understand that Russia suffered Chernobyl and can understand their sensitivities, but really, there is no danger of irradiation,” a spokesperson said.
Ironically the Gunma Museum of Modern Art is considered an important work of art in itself. Constructed from 1971 to 1974 using a design by Arata Isozaki, it is considered one of the 100 most important buildings built in Japan since World War II. Isozaki himself is one of the few Japanese architects to win a reputation outside of Japan and is responsible for such iconic structures as the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and the Sports Hall for the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games.