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Here and There introduces art, artists, galleries, museums, and other cultural facilities around Japan that non-Japanese readers and first-time visitors may find of particular interest.

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image image Virtual Art: Japan's Museums Go Online
Alan Gleason
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In this time of corona, three cheers for the Internet! Museums and galleries throughout Japan are by and large shut down until further notice, but there is a blossoming of sites offering cyber-views of art exhibitions and collections, and a good number of them provide English-language text. Formats and contents vary widely, with necessity mothering the invention of some innovative multimedia approaches. Here is a small sampling of Japan-based sites featuring online art presentations that English readers can enjoy.

The National Art Center, Tokyo

A relatively recent addition to Japan's national museum lineup, NACT has no collection of its own but reliably hosts big-ticket shows of interest. The current one was nipped in the bud by the virus before it could open, and the new opening date has yet to be confirmed. More's the pity, because Timeless Conversations 2020: Voices from Japanese Art of the Past and Present looks like a winner. Fortunately, the NACT web page about the exhibition offers substantial explicatory text in English plus a slide show of some of the works, as well as a link to an English-language PDF you can open to see more commentary and a sampling of the exhibits close-up. Installation views of each room are also available on the exhibition website, albeit in Japanese only. The concept is simple but fun: classic masterpieces of Japanese art are paired with homages, parodies, and otherwise thematically linked works by eight well-known contemporary artists. Nearly 36 Somewhat Ridiculous Views, manga artist Shiriagari Kotobuki's spoof of Hokusai's immortal series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, is especially good. Sadly, though, the little taste offered by the site makes the inaccessibility of the entire show all the more frustrating. One hopes the museum can find a way to extend its run long enough to reopen in the not too distant future.

 

Left: Katsushika Hokusai, The Great Wave off Kanagawa from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, Edo period (19th century), Kuboso Memorial Museum of Arts, Izumi. Right: Shiriagari Kotobuki, The Earth as Seen from the Sun from the series Nearly 36 Somewhat Ridiculous Views, 2017, collection of the artist.

Mori Art Museum

A standout among Tokyo's contemporary art museums, the Mori always manages to keep on top of current trends in the art world, and its response to the viral lockdown is no exception. The museum website has recently launched a content-rich online program, "Mori Art Museum DIGITAL," that includes a limited-time series titled "Stay Home, Stay Creative: MAM @ HOME." Among the goodies are a virtual 3D tour of the museum's prematurely closed Future and the Arts show, sneak previews of video works whose screening has been postponed, and an "Artists Cookbook" that will feature recipes and photos submitted by artists. The initial offering, "Kusama Lotus," is a recipe by MAM director Mami Kataoka, showcasing slices of lotus root that look for all the world like Kusama's iconic polka-dot creations. You can also click on the website's Collection page to view virtually everything in the museum's vast collection. All content is provided in English.

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The "Mori Art Museum DIGITAL" page entrance. Photo courtesy of Mori Art Museum, Tokyo

Mizuma Art Gallery

Mizuma is consistently a quality act with an impact on the contemporary art scene that belies its Tokyo gallery's modest footprint. Not only is it an active patron of young Japanese artists deserving of wider recognition, but its web pages provide non-Japanese readers with thorough English-language descriptions of its exhibitions. Mizuma is currently offering a full menu of videos of past shows, many with English subtitles, which it posts on YouTube. The only drawback is that you'll have to click on each video thumbnail to find out which ones have English subtitles. Alternatively, you can subscribe to Mizuma's English email newsletter, which will keep you updated on the latest postings.

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A screenshot of Mizuma Art Gallery's weekly email newsletter. Reproduced by permission of Mizuma Art Gallery

kyoto ddd gallery

Operated by DNP, which (disclaimer!) also hosts Artscape Japan, this Kyoto gallery holds regular exhibitions focusing on graphic design. The current show, Kontrapunkt Type, introduces bespoke typefaces created for various clients by the high-profile Copenhagen- and Tokyo-based design agency Kontrapunkt, which has prepared a special "virtual exhibition" for the occasion. Even if you're not a font fanatic, the production offers plenty of eye and ear candy. Be sure to check out the Presskit, a package that includes some visually and sonically trippy movies and screen recordings. Originally intended to make the show accessible to people who can't visit Kyoto, the virtual presentation turned out to be prescient when the gallery had to close in early April due to the virus outbreak.

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Installation view, Kontrapunkt Type, kyoto ddd gallery.

Niconico Art Museum

Niconico, Japan's ubiquitous video-streaming service, is giving stir-crazy artgoers a boost through its Niconico Art Museum site, which boasts an ever-growing trove of video tours of art museums around the country and has lately been on a roll, posting more content than usual during the current hiatus. So far hardly any of the videos on offer have been rendered English-friendly, but here's a good one: a "Bonsai Museum Tour with English subtitles" that guides you around the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum in Saitama, just north of Tokyo. Normally thronged with bonsai aficionados from all over, it's the only public museum devoted to the art. Originally streamed live, the two-hour video is accompanied by Niconico's trademark flow of real-time viewer comments across the top of the screen (in Japanese only, alas -- some are quite amusing). One hopes Niconico can add English subtitles to more of these productions in the future, as they are well worth watching.

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Screenshot from the English-subtitled video tour of the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum on the Niconico Art Museum site. Reproduced by permission of the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum and Dwango Co., Ltd.


 
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Alan Gleason
Alan Gleason is a translator, editor and writer based in Tokyo, where he has lived for over 30 years. Since 2006 he has edited Artscape Japan and written the Here and There column, as well as translating the Picks reviews. He also edits and translates works on Japanese architecture, music, and theater.
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