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Picks :
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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.

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image image 15 May 2018
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Nobuya Abe 1913-1971: Insatiable Quest beyond Borders
23 March - 20 May 2018
Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art
(Hiroshima)
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Wartime works by Japanese artists that glorified the nation are referred to now as "war paintings," so perhaps the many postwar works that expressed the cruelty and despair of war should be called "defeat paintings." A classic example of this genre is Nobuya Abe's Hunger, depicting several skeletal men lying prone on the ground. In the fifties Abe's work grew increasingly abstract as he moved in the direction of Art Informel, shifting styles at a dizzying pace. His most original creations, however, were the grotesque human figures he painted in the first decade after Japan's defeat.

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2018-1 Collection Highlights & Special Feature: "Women's March"
24 February - 17 June 2018
Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art
(Hiroshima)
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While the “Collection Highlights” on the first floor consist entirely of works by male artists, the “Women’s March” show in the basement showcases women. The movement against sexual discrimination coincides on many levels with the peace and antinuclear movements. An iconic figure at this intersection is artist Nancy Spero (1926-2009), who shared the Hiroshima Art Prize with her partner Leon Golub in 1996. Appropriately for an exhibition in Hiroshima, the “Women’s March” show features six works by Spero.

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Koiso Ryohei and Yoshihara Jiro: Dividing Ridge of the Hanshinkan Modernism

24 March - 27 May 2018

Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art
(Hyogo)
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Koiso (1903-88) was a master of academic figurative art; his contemporary Yoshihara (1905-72) was a leading avant-gardist who founded the legendary Gutai group. Both men were born and raised in the Hanshin region spanning Kobe and Osaka, yet their artistic trajectories could not have been more different. The show plays up those differences, tracing how their paths increasingly diverged after World War II. Though they apparently met several times, a photo of the two men together does not suggest that they were particularly chummy. (See this month's Focus for a detailed review.)

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Back to 1918: Time Travel with the Museum Collection

17 March - 24 June 2018

Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art
(Hyogo)

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A look at the museum's holdings that moves backward in ten-year increments -- 2008, 1998, 1988 -- all the way to 1918. Yasumasa Morimura and Kenji Yanobe represent 2008, while 1998 features Jiro Takamatsu (who died that year) and 1988 has Keiji Uematsu and Hisashi Karasawa. Though the works selected were not necessarily created in the designated year, they do a good job of summing up the mood of each decade. If nothing else, the time-travel conceit attests to the breadth of the museum's collection.
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The 20th Yusaku Kamekura Design Award Exhibition: Norio Nakamura Exhibition 2018
6 April - 16 May 2018
Creation Gallery G8
(Tokyo)
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Norio Nakamura was this year's recipient of one of Japan's top awards for graphic design, founded in honor of designer Yusaku Kamekura (1915-97). The show provides an overview of Nakamura's work to date, typified by simple lines and flat color planes. Purely graphic, with no lettering, his compositions have a visceral, contagious power that wells up from somewhere deep within them.
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New Planet Photo City: William Klein and Photographers Living in the 22nd Century

23 February - 10 June 2018

21_21 Design Sight
(Tokyo)
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A somewhat schizoid presentation. The section devoted to Klein (b. 1928) takes the form of an 18-screen slide show covering the walls and floor of the gallery -- a novel interpretation of the eminent photographer’s work that demonstrates how well suited his images are to digital processing. But the other section, “Photographers Living in the 22nd Century,” is a scattershot effort that leaves the viewer wondering what criteria led to the choice of these particular photographers.
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50 Years Since the Passing of Kenichi Nakamura
3 February - 11 March 2018
Fukuoka Prefectural Museum of Art
(Fukuoka)
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Western-style painter Nakamura (1895-1967) is known for his dramatic battlefield scenes, painted during Japan's war decade when he was in his forties. His career can be divided into three periods -- roughly 15 prewar years, 10 war years, and 20 postwar years -- and this exhibition was similarly demarcated. Viewing it, one got the undeniable impression that he reached his artistic peak before and during the war, his postwar efforts little more than an afterthought. Had he exhausted his p11assion for art in his battle paintings, or was he burdened by guilt for having painted them?
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The 21st Exhibition of the Taro Okamoto Award for Contemporary Art
16 February - 15 April 2018
The Taro Okamoto Museum of Art
(Kanagawa)
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The “Taro” award competition is open to artists of all ages and nationalities, the only stipulations being that their entry fit in a 5-cubic-meter space and be previously unexhibited. As befits an event with renegade artist Okamoto’s name on it, the annual show always features plenty of wild and crazy stuff, a breath of fresh air in these too-cool times. This latest iteration selected 26 winners from 558 submissions. The award has no particular theme and the jurors remain the same -- yet somehow the exhibition feels different each time. This year’s crop offered lots of agglomerations of objects and works alluding to death.
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You and Immunity
24 - 25 February 2018
So-Cal Link Gallery Omotesando
(Tokyo)
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The title of this show intrigued me. Turns out the sponsor was dairy conglomerate Meiji Co., Ltd., a leader in lactobacillus research. The event, which brought together works by practitioners of diverse genres -- illustrators, architects, balloon artists, musicians -- was a reminder of the power of art to convey information to its beholders via intuition. In that respect it succeeded admirably in its avowed aim of expressing, through art, a concept like immunity that might normally be considered abstruse.
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Kumi Yokoyu: Time Indoors Outdoors
10 March - 21 April 2018

Maruki Gallery For The Hiroshima Panels
(Saitama)

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For the past two decades Yokoyu has been producing photo-and-text works on the subject of her grandmother, who was born in the final year of World War I, suffered persecution during World War II for her and her husband's antiwar stance, and lived until 2000, over a half-century into the postwar era. This show was a reconstruction of five series including the titular one, which juxtaposes nude and other portraits of Yokoyu's grandmother with texts about concurrent historical events. Though their tone is dispassionate, these works cut straight to the bone.
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