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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 2019
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The 21st Yusaku Kamekura Design Award Exhibition: Yoshiaki Irobe
4 April - 21 May 2019
Creation Gallery G8
(Tokyo)
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The subtitle of this show is "Markers and Arrows," which is how graphic designer Irobe describes his creations to people unfamiliar with his profession. Much of Isobe's work involves developing branding and signage for art museums and other public facilities. He garnered the Kamekura Award for his corporate identity planning for the Osaka Metro subway system, notably the Metro logo that is the centerpiece of this show.

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Weavers of Worlds: A Century of Flux in Japanese Modern/Contemporary Art
29 March - 16 June 2019
Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo
(Tokyo)
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This ambitious 14-section show reviews trends in Japanese art over the century since the outbreak of World War I. The selection leans toward the experimental, exemplified by Makoto Aida's "War Picture Returns" series, done on fusuma sliding doors and byobu folding screens in lieu of canvas. Overall it's a refreshing study in contrasts with presentations at the National Museum of Modern Art across town, whose tastes seem downright stodgy compared to those of the maverick MOT.

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Pleased to Meet You: New Acquisitions in Recent Years

29 March - 16 June 2019

Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo
(Tokyo)
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After closing for renovations for nearly three years, MOT reopened at the end of March. During this downtime the museum acquired some 400 works, the focus of this inaugural show in the refurbished facility. Heavily featured are artists who bring an element of surprise to their work. Interestingly, the MOT boasts plenty of art from the 1970s, a decade usually dismissed as a time of stagnation and mediocrity for modern art.

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Fukuzawa Ichiro: Laugh Off This Hopeless World

12 March - 26 May 2019

The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
(Tokyo)

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The standard line on Fukuzawa (1898-1992) is that he painted weird Surrealist pictures before World War II, was arrested just before the war for allegedly subversive art, then began doing war paintings upon his release, switching after the war to large works portraying masses of alienated people. This retrospective, however, challenges those generalizations and seeks to demonstrate that Fukuzawa's themes consistently sounded warnings about the social status quo, as befits a leading light among Western-style painters in 20th-century Japan. Even his peacetime works were, in a sense, "war paintings" for their era. (For a detailed review see this month's Here and There.)
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Parabola of Pre-Raphaelitism

14 March - 9 June 2019

Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum, Tokyo
(Tokyo)
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Commemorating the 200th birthday of the art critic John Ruskin, this show begins with several dozen sketches by Ruskin and J.M.W. Turner. Inspired to a great degree by Ruskin's views, the Pre-Raphaelites were a group of artists who sought to revisit an era, "pre-Raphael," when artists ostensibly engaged in more faithful depictions of nature. Though "learn from nature" was their motto, their approach had little in common with that of their French Realist contemporaries, with a tendency toward treacly, unnatural paintings of motifs derived from medieval legends. Many Pre-Raphaelite works are best appreciated as a type of kitsch.

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Yoshino Oishi: Ravages of War
23 March - 12 May 2019
Tokyo Photographic Art Museum
(Tokyo)
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Photographers who document wars tend to focus on people caught in their midst and the circumstances surrounding them. Oishi takes a different approach, visiting battlegrounds after the conflict has subsided and aiming her lens at people who bear the memories and the scars, both inner and outer, of that experience. Instead of dramatic images of war in progress, what we see in her quiet monochrome works are silent landscapes and their inhabitants gazing back at us.
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Paintings . . . really?
21 March - 12 May 2019
Kawaguchi Art Gallery
(Saitama)
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A painting is nominally an image of some kind painted on a flat surface. That image can be figurative or abstract, and need not be recognizable. All that really counts is that it is painted on a plane; thus there is a considerable degree of freedom in defining what constitutes a "painting." This show demonstrated just how broad that definition can be, showcasing works by an artist who applies colors to photographs of water surfaces, another whose works resemble sculptures coated with colors, and a third who paints not only on canvas but also on the interior and exterior walls -- and chairs -- of the gallery.
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Otera Oyatsu Club - Marunouchi Branch
2 - 22 April 2019
Good Design Marunouchi
(Tokyo)
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When people attend memorial services at Buddhist temples, they customarily leave offerings of sweets and fruit to the deceased. Consequently temples are always awash in perishable foods. Though the priests share this bounty among themselves and their families, much of it ends up going to waste. The Otera Oyatsu ("Temple Snacks") Club delivers these surplus foodstuffs and other household goods to local groups around the country that support single-parent households and children in need. The club won a Good Design Award for its "design" of a system that brings surplus temple food to people who can use it.
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Mitsugu Onishi: Town Light
26 March - 15 April 2019
The Gallery
(Tokyo)
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An exhibition that offered a nostalgic look at the "good old days," suitably timed for the end of the Heisei Era. Photographer Onishi (b. 1952) has struck out from his usual haunts in the old shitamachi neighborhoods of Tokyo, where he grew up, to travel the length of Japan from Okinawa to Aomori looking for townscapes that still bear the scent of the Showa Era (1926-89). Besides his photographs, Onishi adorned the gallery walls with thermometers, bromide prints, magazine clippings, and an old radio playing programs of yesteryear.
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Pop-Up Shop: Fukunaga Print Co., Ltd. x 21_21
10 - 22 April 2019

21_21 Design Sight
(Tokyo)

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Upon entering the gallery one was greeted by countless Air Vases -- Fukunaga Print Co.'s flagship product -- floating in the air. These are made by cutting slits in a circular sheet of paper at 0.9-mm intervals in a dotted-line pattern; when the paper is pulled up, it transforms into a meshlike vase. Fukunaga works with numerous creators to develop original paper products, which it is capable of manufacturing at its own plant. The imaginative results were on display in this show.
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