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

1 June 2012
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Turning Around
1 April - 8 July 2012
Watari-um
(Tokyo)
Curated by the merry pranksters of politico-Dadaistic art unit Chim Pom, this multinational show includes their work as well as that of kindred spirits Voina (Russia), JR (France) and Adbusters (Canada). Also featured from Japan are works by the late Iri and Toshi Maruki of Hiroshima Panels fame, and by Kota Takeuchi, the artist who is allegedly the now-viral "finger-pointing worker" at the Fukushima nuclear plant. The common medium is street art, much of it on anti-nuclear themes. Artistically rough and politically tough.

Japanese Masterpieces from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

20 March - 10 June 2012
Tokyo National Museum
(Tokyo)
Touted as the biggest-ever "homecoming" exhibition of Japanese art housed outside Japan, this show highlights the legendary collection of the Boston MFA. If they had remained in-country, masterpieces like the scrolls Minister Kibi's Adventures in China (12th century) and Events of the Heiji Era (13th century) would surely be designated National Treasures. But the coup-de-grace here has got to be the monumental sumi-ink painting Dragon and Clouds (1763) by Edo-era eccentric Soga Shohaku, whose caricature of the mythical beast looks for all the world like a ten-meter-long manga.
Beat Takeshi Kitano: Gosse de Peintre
13 April - 2 September 2012
Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery
(Tokyo)
In another sort of homecoming, this show of paintings and sculptures by the protean film director, actor and TV personality "Beat" Takeshi Kitano is the same one that opened two years ago in Paris at the Fondation Cartier. Kitano's outsider-ish paintings are augmented by objects that seem to have been designed on a whim, among them a collection of goldfish with hippopotamus heads and a diagram of instructions on how to avoid death by hanging. Exuding a force that is both explosive and reflexive, his three-dimensional works are closer to street than outsider art.
Taisuke Abe: Hiyori no Mori (Forest of Hiyori)

27 April - 3 June 2012

Hiyori Art Center
(Miyagi)
Opened this past March in a renovated storefront in the tsunami-inundated business district of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, Hiyori Art Center works with the art district of Koganecho in Yokohama to organize workshops and exhibitions by visiting artists-in-residence. Known for works made of recycled clothing, Taisuke Abe presents the fruits of his recent residency and conducts a workshop whose goal is to produce a "forest" of stuffed animals. The emphasis is not so much on how art can be created in a disaster area as on how art can serve as a catalyst for interaction among people in a community.
Yuichi Takahashi

28 April - 24 June 2012

University Art Museum, Tokyo University of the Arts
(Tokyo)
Described in the show's subtitle as a "pioneer of modern Western-style painting [in Japan]," Takahashi (1828-1894) was roughly a contemporary of Cezanne, and this exhibition is organized much like the concurrent Cezanne show at the Tokyo National Art Center. In both cases the artist's oeuvre is separated into such categories as "still lifes," "landscapes," and "portraits and historical paintings," despite the fact that neither artist made any such distinctions in his choice of motifs from day to day. Bringing together 132 works, the Takahashi show boasts the Important Cultural Properties Salmon and Courtesan as well as landscapes that resemble ukiyo-e. Ample quantities of supplementary materials are also on display.
Kota Takeuchi: Open Secret

17 March - 1 April 2012

XYZ collective
(Tokyo)
Recently revealed as the nuclear worker who pointed his finger accusingly at a monitoring camera at the crippled Fukushima plant, Takeuchi here built a deliberately ambiguous installation around the incident. A man who might or might not be Takeuchi occupied a booth at the entrance to the venue. Inside, in a space resembling a darkened garage, the finger-pointing video replayed on a wall. Nearby were a chair and a microphone (or mic-like object) into which someone was speaking. A line from the mic led outside, so it appeared that the other party to the conversation was the Takeuchi-like individual in the booth. In this manner Takeuchi managed to simultaneously own up to his identity as the finger-pointing worker, and fill visitors' heads with renewed doubts as to whether it really was him.
Sarah Fujiwara: Neuma

10 March - 9 April 2012

Emon Photo Gallery
(Tokyo)
Paris-based Fujiwara offers scanned, enlarged prints of lotus stalks and leaves in water, shot with large-format instant camera film. Intentionally using film well past its expiration date, she obtains images that appear attractively bleached and faded. A neuma is a symbol used in the notation of medieval Gregorian chants, and indeed, there is something musical about Fujiwara's compositions.

Tomoyoshi Murayama: Get All of Me Seething

7 April - 13 May 2012

The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto
(Kyoto)
Murayama (1901-77) spent a year in Berlin absorbing Dadaism, Constructivism, and other avant-garde influences, then introduced these movements to Japan when he returned home in 1923. As this retrospective attests, he was a renaissance man who dabbled in oils, collage, printmaking, dance and theatrical stage design, posters, book design, picture books, and commercial art, leaving his mark in all these fields. Though the show focuses mainly on his artistic endeavors in the 1920s, the sheer volume and unfettered diversity of Murayama's output is a bit overwhelming.

Masashi Sanai: Rarry

6 April - 6 May 2012

NADiff Gallery
(Tokyo)
A neologism coined by the photographer, "rarry" refers to ramen and curry, we are told. True to Sanai's word, his photos present bowls of ramen or plates of curry and rice front and center. Unadorned and unpretentious, but right in your face, the images are as refreshingly simple and straightforward as the dishes they portray. For Sanai, they may well be the product of an urge to get back to basics.
Katsuhiro Otomo: GENGA
9 April - 30 May 2012
3331 Arts Chiyoda
(Tokyo)
Exhibitions of original manga art seem to be the big thing these days at museums and galleries all over. And no wonder -- they attract far bigger crowds than a typical fine-art show. For traditionalists this may be a disturbing and off-putting trend, but in the case of Otomo, at least, his draftsmanship is so superior to that of the average cartoonist that it is worth a look. The centerpiece of the show is of course his major opus, the dystopian SF manga series Akira, 2,300 original illustrations of which are on display.
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