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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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Yu Araki: Le Souvenir Du Japon
3 April - 23 June 2019
Shiseido Gallery
(Tokyo)
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Araki's video installations expose the disparities that occur in our perceptions of different cultures or epochs -- treating them in the context of the desires, distortions, and ambiguities implicit in the act of "seeing and shooting" images with a camera. His installation The Last Ball is based on a passage by the French writer Pierre Loti in his book Japoneries d'autonme about a ball at the Rokumeikan, Tokyo's Meiji-era banquet hall, as well as a short story, "The Ball," based on that same account by the Japanese author Ryunosuke Akutagawa. It's a brilliant deconstruction and reconstruction of the way we view people and cultures we consider "foreign."

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The Burrell Collection: A Voyage to Impressionism. Vision of a Great Shipowner-Collector
27 April - 30 June 2019
Bunkamura The Museum
(Tokyo)
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This show focuses on the Impressionist section of the extensive art collection of the Scottish shipping tycoon William Burrell (1861-1958). As the title hints, big names like Degas, Renoir and Cテゥzanne are less plentiful than Daumier, Daubigny, Fantin-Latour and others who were forerunners or on the periphery of the Impressionist movement. Whether that bias makes this presentation more or less interesting is in the eye of the beholder.

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Charles-François Daubigny: The Bridge between Barbizon and Impressionism

20 April - 30 June 2019

Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Museum of Art
(Tokyo)
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Daubigny's paintings always seem to look "natural." One reason is that many are painted on low, wide canvases. These dimensions are perfectly suited to landscapes, which to our horizontally-placed eyes stretch before us to the left and right. Another reason is his style, which deviates from others associated with the Barbizon school. Unlike Corot and Millet, he does not foreground human or animal figures, nor does he use vivid colors and brushstrokes to appeal to the viewer as Henri Rousseau or Narcisse Virgilio Diaz did.

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Kukai: The World of Yoshimitsu Nagasaka

18 April - 3 June 2019

Canon Gallery S
(Tokyo)

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Nagasaka was born in 1948 in the Buddhist monastery enclave of Koyasan, Wakayama Prefecture. He began photographing his hometown at age 20 while a student at Osaka University of Arts, and has made it his lifework ever since. This retrospective of that half-century of work demonstrates the significance of Nagasaka's intimate familiarity with this special place since childhood. But his images also conceal a world that extends beyond Koyasan and its legendary founder Kukai (Kobo Daishi).

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Visionary ∞ Resonance: Mitsuo Katsui
14 April - 2 June 2019
Utsunomiya Museum of Art
(Tochigi)
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One of Japan's premier graphic designers during the boom years of the sixties and seventies, Katsui (b. 1931) has worked in every conceivable field of design during his long career: posters, editorial design, corporate identity, spatial composition, and more. Perhaps most intriguing is his design of Japan's first full-color encyclopedia, Encyclopedia World Now. Today we find everything we need to know on the Internet, but this work was published in 1971, during the heyday of the encyclopedia as information source. The show turned out to be a prime opportunity to see how such tours-de-force of information compilation were made.
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Nendo x Suntory Museum of Art: Information or Inspiration? Japanese aesthetics to enjoy with left side and right side of the brain

27 April - 2 June 2019

Suntory Museum of Art
(Tokyo)
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A visitor first finds that there are two entrances to the exhibition; a staffperson invites you to "choose whichever you like." One leads to "information," an all-white space, the other to "inspiration," a pitch-dark one. The "information" room offers forthright displays of Japanese artworks in their entirety, accompanied by explanatory texts, while the "inspiration" room focuses on specific elements of the same works. Basically, you get to enjoy the same show twice, in different ways窶蚤n innovative presentation indeed.
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Keizo Kitajima: Untitled Records 2018
7 - 27 May 2019
Nikon Plaza Shinjuku: The Gallery
(Tokyo)
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Since the 1990s, Kitajima has been adding to his Places series of meticulously composed photos of scenes in various locales. This show gathered images shot throughout Japan, from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south, over a period of a year in 2018. The series testifies to the keen selectivity of Kitajima's eye. With plans to continue the "Untitled Records" project until 2021, he is compiling what may well be recognized 50 years hence as an invaluable "visual record of the future."
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Osamu James Nakagawa: Eclipse/Kai
13 April - 12 May 2019
Gallery Sugata
(Kyoto)
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New York-born, Japan-raised photographer Nakagawa has long explored his dual-nation identity. This solo show featured two series: Eclipse, which revisits his earliest work from the 1990s in light of the changes wrought in American society in the Trump era, and Kai, which views the cycle of life and death through his own family: the aging and death of his parents, his wife's pregnancy, and the birth of a daughter. A self-referential thread runs through the imagery in both series.
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Perverse Japanese Art: From Zen Painting to Heta-uma
16 March - 12 May 2019
Fuchu Art Museum
(Tokyo)
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The imp of the perverse runs amok through this aptly titled show, which revels in paradoxes like "to lose is to win" and "so bad it's good" (heta-uma). By far the most iconoclastic works here are the Zen paintings. Hakuin's casually sketched Sutasuta Bozu depicts a pot-bellied monk scurrying about buck-naked, while Sengai's Sixteen Arhats tosses off the supposedly enlightened Buddhist adepts as a bunch of fun-loving old geezers.
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Nobumasa Kushino: Outside Japan Exhibition
12 April - 19 May 2019

Gallery AaMo
(Tokyo)

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Kushino, the former curator of the Tomonoura Museum, specializes in outsider art. This show opened in tandem with the publication of Outside Japan: Japanese Outsider Art, a compendium of artists Kushino has worked with. Among the standouts are a painter of dustcloths squeezed out in the course of a janitorial job, a mask-maker who opened an "Original Mask Museum" displaying over 20,000 handmade masks, and a painter of pictures commemorating meals the artist has eaten. What they share in common is their devotion to a creative process inspired by a muse only they can hear.
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