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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 June 2011
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Shigeru Aoki: Myth, Sea and Love
27 May - 10 July 2011
The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto
A legendary painter who died of tuberculosis at the tender age of 28, Shigeru Aoki (1882-1911) is known for masterpieces like Paradise Under the Sea that use western painting techniques to depict ancient Japanese myths. Retrospectives of his work are, however, few and far between. This one -- the first in 39 years and possibly the first ever to visit the Kansai region -- affords an excellent opportunity to set aside the tragically romantic aura surrounding the artist and judge his works on their own terms.

MAM project 014: Yukihiro Taguchi

26 March - 28 August 2011
Mori Art Museum
One entire wall of the gallery appears to have been brutally demolished, with the leftover materials then used to build chairs, huts and the like. The room has the lively ambience of a (de)construction site. A video shows hilarious animated scenes of floorboards leaping up and dancing around. Meanwhile, the opposite gallery wall is covered with hundreds of rough sketches in pencil and watercolor. Berlin-based Taguchi (b.1980) is clearly a man of diverse, and considerable, talents.
Buddha: The Story in Manga and Art
26 April - 26 June 2011
Tokyo National Museum
In a stroke of what might be either multimedia brilliance or pop-culture pandering, the Tokyo National Museum has juxtaposed Buddhist statuary from its own collection with original graphics from renowned manga artist Osamu Tezuka's eight-volume epic Buddha. Whatever one may think of manga as an art form, placing cartoon frames alongside religious iconography is a daring move. Unfortunately, the result is less provocative than schizoid: Is the focus of the exhibition religious sculpture, or Tezuka's cartooning, or the life of the Buddha? The parts don't quite add up to a whole. Not at all coincidentally, the animated film version of Buddha was scheduled for release on May 30.
Tokyo Story 2010 Shibuya

28 April - 26 June 2011

Tokyo Wonder Site Shibuya
Tokyo Story is an annual event at TWS's three Tokyo venues -- Shibuya, Hongo, and Aoyama -- showcasing works by artists in the organization's creators-in-residence program. At Shibuya, this year's standouts were works by Motoyuki Shitamichi and German artist Carsten Nicolai. Shitamichi's series of "Traveling Books" are cut-and-paste collages that combine disparate books like Heinrich Schliemann's autobiography and Osamu Tezuka's manga Black Jack 2, or mix and match author bios extracted from the back pages of paperback editions of works by Soseki Natsume, Kenji Miyazawa and the like.
The 30th Anniversary of Ito Cultural Foundation: Highlights of the Donation

26 March - 3 July 2011

Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art
Since opening in 2002, the Hyogo Prefectural Museum in Kobe has enjoyed a special relationship with the Ito Cultural Foundation, which has donated artworks and books as well as funded exhibitions and concerts at the museum. This show commemorates the 30th anniversary of the foundation's establishment by displaying works it has contributed to the museum's collection. While it may be an everyday thing for corporations and wealthy individuals in countries like the U.S. to set up foundations to support the arts, the practice has never caught on in Japan. Hence this exhibition is significant for highlighting what is, unfortunately, an all-too-rare arrangement in this country.
Kuniyoshi: Spectacular Ukiyo-e Imagination

12 April - 5 June 2011

Osaka City Museum of Fine Arts
This mammoth retrospective commemorating the 150th anniversary of the death of Edo-era ukiyo-e master Utagawa Kuniyoshi offers 420 of his works -- a must-see assemblage. For one thing, it features plenty of his bijinga ("pictures of beautiful women"), which have received short shrift at past Kuniyoshi exhibitions. The show also boasts a variety of unusual items -- works displayed for the first time, woodblock prototypes, unauthorized copies and the like. To top it off, the prints on display are in remarkably good condition.
Artists of the Mingei Movement: Focus on Keisuke Serizawa

13 March - 18 July 2011

The Japan Folk Crafts Museum, Osaka
Enamored of the beauty of common tools and utensils, Soetsu Yanagi (1889-1961) and his friends, the potters Shoji Hamada and Kanjiro Kawai, applied the name mingei (folk crafts) to the work of anonymous artisans. The dye artist Keisuke Serizawa (1895-1984) was a key participant in Yanagi's Mingei Movement, but was and is anything but anonymous. Inspired by the bingata tradition of Okinawa, Serizawa developed the katazome stencil dyeing technique, producing distinctive and colorful designs that remain popular today. The current show proves just how modern Serizawa's concept was.

Meiji's Visual Revolution!

8 April - 11 June 2011

Gakushuin University Museum of History
This highly edifying show offers insights into the "visual revolution" in Japanese art that accompanied the Meiji Restoration. Materials donated by the estate of Shigetada Matsumuro (1851-1929) to the Gakushuin University Museum of History demonstrate how western drawing techniques were introduced into Japanese art education. Matsumuro was a graduate of the Imperial College of Art, Japan's first official art school, where he studied under European instructors, then taught the techniques he learned to his students at Gakushuin. The materials displayed here enable viewers to see the resulting contrast between Edo-period art and that of the Meiji period following the fall of the Shogunate and the opening of Japan to western cultural influences.

Yutaka Moriguchi: Reaching Your Heart...

29 April - 26 June 2011

The Tokushima Modern Art Museum
Moriguchi has earned accolades for video installations that straightforwardly depict exchanges of love and affection between people. In the past he has combined objects, mirrors, and moving images to express the precariousness of existence. An encounter with hospital art during a two-year sojourn in England, however, changed the course of Moriguchi's career as well as his artistic approach, spurring him to launch a nonprofit group to promote hospital art in Japan. His newer works are even more universal in their appeal for love and tolerance, and go straight to the heart of the viewer.
Shop Design Analysis Exhibition: What kind of gimmicks make people want to shop at a particular store?
1 February - 8 May 2011
Printing Museum, Tokyo
When we go to a supermarket or convenience store, whether or not we purchase an item depends not only on the design of the product itself, but on how it is displayed in the shop. This show does a thought-provoking job of analyzing the fearsomely precise psychological ploys that manufacturers and retailers bring to bear in their relentless campaign to give the unwitting or vacillating consumer that extra push to "choose" a particular product. The real-life examples on display -- along with demonstrations of strategies ranging from clothes maker Uniqlo's "order" to burger chain Village Vanguard's "strategic disorder" -- prove that very little is left to actual choice, beyond the illusion that we have any.
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