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Picks is a monthly sampling of Japan's art scene, offering short reviews of exhibitions at museums and galleries in recent weeks, with an emphasis on contemporary art by young artists.

1 October 2010
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Biwako Biennale 2010
18 September - 7 November 2010
Omihachiman City
A thriving castle town on the shores of Lake Biwa, Edo-era Omihachiman was home to the legendary "Omi merchants," forerunners of modern Japanese capitalism. With numerous structures dating back a century or more, the town still retains its old-time vibe. The fourth Biwako Biennale gathers some fifty artists from all over the world to show their work in venues ranging from the venerable Ganjojuji temple, build in 618 by Prince Shotoku, to a thousand-square-meter former roof-tile factory.

Aichi Triennale 2010

21 August - 31 October 2010
Aichi Arts Center, Nagoya City Art Museum, Chojamachi Site, Nayabashi Site, Nanatsudera Kyodo Studio, others
This Nagoya-based event extends across several sites in the city, all concentrated within the range of a couple of subway stops. The exhibitions are about evenly divided between museums and neighborhood venues, offering an entertaining diversity of environments in close proximity. In keeping with its "urban festival" theme, the Triennale strives to provide visitors with a full panoply of Nagoya pleasures: not only art exhibits and performances, but food, drink and sightseeing as well.
17 July - 20 September 2010
Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts
An impressive assembly of 38 loosely-defined "outsider" artists, including the self-taught as well as those with mental or physical disabilities, this show brings together over 200 works by big names like Yayoi Kusama, Yoshitomo Nara, Seizo Tajima and Reiko Ikemura as well as less celebrated but equally worthy talents Takashi Shuuji, Kunizo Matsumoto, Takuya Sasaki, Suma Maruki and Aya Daidou.
Toru Kuwakubo - Telling of Sea, Telling of Painter

7 August - 26 September 2010

Tokyo Wonder Site
Featuring some 30 paintings and a number of photos by Kuwakubo, this solo retrospective includes early works as well as his more recent figurative paintings. Best known for producing seaside landscapes by the fictitious painter Kuwoud Bonet (presumably a play on Claude Monet), Kuwakubo maintains the conceit with a photo portrait of Bonet as well as a video of men digging a hole in a beach, a prevailing motif in his Bonet series.
Toshiya Mizojiri

27 July - 1 August 2010

Art Space Niji
Mizojiri's line drawings initially appear to be abstract, but the motifs derive from landscapes in China, where he once lived. His methodology is striking: he spreads a cloth on the floor and draws on it while endeavoring to avoid viewing the whole picture. The result is a gradual deviation from the composition he originally envisioned, yielding an unexpected, subconscious image in its place. Indeed, he makes deliberate use of the elasticity of the fabric to impose constraints on his drawing. The landscapes thus produced speak poignantly of loneliness and isolation.
Yoshihito Kawabata

17 July - 7 August 2010

Contemporary Art and Spirits (CAS)
A wall of concrete blocks stands flush against the walls of the gallery. Once it dawns on you that this isn't just a wall, but an installation by the artist, it suddenly takes on the aura of a work of minimalist sculpture. Indeed, there is beauty in the rough texture of the material and the iterating grid of the blocks. Nonetheless, it seems that a number of visitors have turned around and gone home in the mistaken belief that the gallery was closed for the day.
Saori Miyake: Image castings 2

9 July - 6 August 2010

Fukugan Gallery
Winner of this year's VOCA Award and rapidly gaining nationwide recognition, Miyake employs photogram techniques to create her own unique floating world. Neither paintings nor photographs, her works lure the viewer into a dreamlike space populated by wispy figures of little girls at play. In this exhibition she also displays the films and other materials from which she composes her work.

Keitaroh Yagi

26 - 31 July 2010

Here Yagi displays semi-solid flat-plane works that consist of thin hemp cloth covering frames he has built himself. He has produced similar pieces before, but with prefabricated frames that he has partially reworked and covered with silk. Earlier on it was easy to conclude that his point was to critique the two-dimensional, fabricated aspect of painting, but this may have been an erroneous assumption. Rather, he is treating the frame as part of the picture, perhaps in a quest for greater freedom of spatial expression. Building the frames himself makes such intentions clearer.

Akira Miyanaga: "making"

10 July - 14 August 2010

Kodama Gallery
Seven screens project videos shot from a camera mounted on the roof of a car cruising the nighttime streets of Kyoto. A separate, larger screen features all of these videos layered atop one another. On this big screen the nightscape shifts by degrees until it becomes a random dance of light. The installation makes good use of the two-story atrium space of the gallery to impart a three-dimensional quality to the display. It even includes the actual car (a Mini) used for the filming, further enhancing the charm of the presentation.
Toxic Girls
17 July - 8 August 2010
At this group show by eight artists -- Manami Okayama, Shinsuke Kotani, Mai Goto, Yuko Sakamoto, Nozomi Tojinbara, Aoi Haneda, Akiko Fukunaga, and Miho Fujiba -- the gallery concurrently ran Che Jonson's film Stand Up! Sisters. The juxtaposition of art and film worked surprisingly well, suggesting that galleries may be able to exploit an untapped potential as "alternative spaces."
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