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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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Celebration: Japanese-Polish Contemporary Art Exhibition
18 May - 23 June 2019
Kyoto Art Center
(Kyoto)
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Japan and Poland celebrated the centennial of their diplomatic relations with this group show introducing 21 artists and art units from both countries. The highlight was Meiro Koizumi's video work We Mourn the Dead of the Future, filmed at a former U.S. military base as part of a workshop with young volunteer participants. People wearing white coats that resemble radiation suits carry in one young person at a time, as if they are corpses, and perform an execution-resuscitation ritual while an audience looks on. It's a disturbing installation that leaves an unpleasant aftertaste.
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Okinawa 1935: Reliving a lost past through photographs
13 April - 29 June 2019
Kyoto Museum for World Peace, Ritsumeikan University
(Kyoto)
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An exhibit of some 100 prints from a much larger trove of recently discovered negatives taken for a 1935 article about Okinawa in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper. Most photographs of prewar Okinawa were destroyed in the horrific destruction the war brought to the island, so these images are a priceless record of life there before then. Some have been colorized with the help of AI machine learning technology and the recollections of residents. But one can't help thinking that black and white would be a more appropriate format given the absence of living witnesses and the loss of memories that can no longer be revived.
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Ai Iwane: ARMS

17 May - 15 June 2019
Kana Kawanishi Photography
(Tokyo)
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These works were inspired, says the photographer, by the "sea of iridescent green" vegetation she saw at South Point, on Hawaii's Big Island, one afternoon during the winter rainy season. Hawaii's new foliage emerges in winter, but Iwane returned to Japan to find the same lush "South Point green" in the trees lining Tokyo's streets in spring. It's a color she associates with the moment she discovered the graves of Japanese immigrants to the islands while walking through a former sugar cane field. Iwane recalls feeling as if "those faceless people stretched their arms out to me."
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Naoki Fuse: I saw a dream yesterday
21 May - 8 June 2019
Fugensha
(Tokyo)
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Part of this show was done in Fuse's usual style of affixing mosaics of small prints directly to the wall. This time, however, he also enlarged a number of key images and displayed them in frames. This approach helps more clearly identify what he is looking for when he snaps the shutter and selects the photos. It also hints at a more open sensibility that enables his fundamentally Eastern worldview of transience and emptiness to resonate with the memories and experiences of viewers of all backgrounds.
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Miwa Yanagi: Myth Machines
19 April - 23 June 2019
Arts Maebashi
(Gunma)
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Yanagi's installation references Japanese mythology for its motifs. While gazing at the four "myth machines" in operation, one wants to imagine what it would be like with no audience. The machines perform such actions as catapulting skulls, clapping bottles together, or speaking as they move here and there. But the most fascinating device is also the simplest: a "wriggling machine" which does just that, for no apparent purpose.
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Seiko Yamamoto: White "Shiro"
24 May - 9 June 2019
Gallery PARC
(Kyoto)
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The color white (shiro in Japanese) has many positive connotations -- clean, pure, innocent, peaceful -- yet it also suggests something more violent: an exclusivity that rejects other colors. In this show Yamamoto examined "white" from diverse perspectives, starting with a series in which she cut out the lines of house floor plans in real estate ads and reconnected them in tapestry-like configurations.
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Ikiume: Pillars of the Beast
14 May - 9 June 2019
Setagaya Public Theatre
(Tokyo)
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During the Ikiume theater troupe's performance, the dramatic declaration "Your role is finished" brought to mind Arthur C. Clarke's novel Childhood's End. M. Night Shyamalan's film The Happening also has a similar premise, where people begin killing themselves when their numbers reach a certain density. In this play survivors debate why the giant pillars that triggered events appeared in the first place, but despite raising a number of SF-like hypotheses, no clear-cut answer is forthcoming, and viewers are left to draw their own conclusions.
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Kagabu Shiho: Piazza del Paradiso
11 May - 9 June 2019
Azumatei Project
(Kanagawa)
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This was the fourth exhibition held at a "creative experiment site" launched this year in Yokohama by Jun Azumatei and three other artists. Objects suspended by wires from the ceiling, debris strewn across the floor, and pictures hung on the wall formed an installation that evolved in response to the space's atmosphere. Featured artist Kagabu, who spent two years in Italy, titled the work Piazza del Paradiso -- "Plaza of Paradise."
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30th Anniversary of the Yokohama Museum of Art: Meet the Collection

13 April - 23 June 2019

Yokohama Museum of Art
(Kanagawa)
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The museum celebrated its 30th year with this massive presentation of over 300 works from its collection. Divided into two large sections, "Life" and "World," which were further subdivided into various chapters, the show also invited four guest artists to explore connections between the collection and their own works. The most impressive was Yusuke Asai's The Tree of Life, a huge distemper painting that covered the entire wall of a circular gallery. It seemed a waste to erase such a mammoth production after only two months.
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Gustave Moreau: Salomé and the Femme Fatale
6 April - 23 June 2019
Panasonic Shiodome Museum
(Tokyo)
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Introducing as it did a major figure in fin-de-siécle French symbolist painting and focusing on works that feature Salomé, the ultimate femme fatale, this show offered a ripe opportunity for comparisons with the nearly concurrent Klimt show across town. In The Apparition, in which the head of John the Baptist floats before Salomé as she dances, Moreau took a radically innovative layered approach of adding ornamental lines atop Expressionistic brushstrokes.
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