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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 2 September 2019
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The Eye of a Connoisseur: The Legendary Hara Sankei Collection
13 July - 1 September 2019
Yokohama Museum of Art
(Kanagawa)
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This show makes a good case for the "legendary" aspect of the art collection of Yokohama silk baron Sankei Hara (1868-1939). Born into a wealthy farming family, Hara learned painting and poetry from his maternal grandfather and uncle, both classical Chinese-style painters in their own right, and was no slouch as a painter himself. So his collection is not the typical rich man's accumulation of works recommended by hired experts, but reflects his own indisputably discerning tastes.
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May I Start? Hirofumi Kera's Cross-Border Hair & Makeup
6 July - 1 September 2019
The Museum of Modern Art, Saitama
(Saitama)
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Kera (b. 1971) is arguably Japan's most celebrated hairstyling and makeup artist. Members of his profession tend to be viewed as anonymous, behind-the-scenes assistants to models and actors, but this exhibition effectively demolishes that modest image: Kera's creations are true artistry. A corner displaying the tools of his trade contains not only lipstick, foundation and brushes, but soldering irons and other implements more often associated with the industrial arts.
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Sarah Fujiwara Exhibition: Melting Petals

14 June - 13 July 2019
Emon Photo Gallery
(Tokyo)
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Photographer Fujiwara offers close-ups of poppies, specifically the bright-red coquelicot. These are not straight snapshots, but the product of various manipulations at the printing stage. For this series she peeled off the surface layer of a pigment print and transferred the image to paper or canvas backing. The unpredictable coloration and deformation of the resulting images is what makes these works unique.
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PGI Summer Show 2019: "mono / tone"
10 July - 24 August 2019
PGI
(Tokyo)
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A group show by five young photographers, all exhibiting monochrome work. Even in this everything-digital age, there seem to be an inordinate number of artists who prefer working with black-and-white silver-halide prints. Even some who use digital cameras and printers choose to output their work in monochrome. Such is the enduring allure of black-and-white photography.
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Apichatpong Weerasethakul: Fever Room
30 June - 3 July 2019
Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre
(Tokyo)
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Part of the Japan Foundation's Asia in Resonance 2019 program, this was a work of contemporary performance art from Thailand that made novel use of the device of seating the audience onstage, not in the seats. This usually involves having both audience and actors share the stage, but here the functions of stage and seating were reversed, while video images were also projected in the opposite of their normal direction.
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Sato Shintaro: Geography
25 June - 13 July 2019
Fugensha
(Tokyo)
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Sato used an 8 x 10 large-format camera to shoot a vast unpaved lot of reclaimed land near Tokyo Bay in 1992. The concept he applied to capturing the mineral-like ground surface was to "photograph flat surfaces planarly, just as they are." In this presentation the images were enlarged to 125 x 100 cm prints. The minuscule bumps, blobs, cracks and fissures in the ground make it look like an alien planet, a tiny but unending expanse captured in detail as only a camera can.
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Dimitris Papaioannou: The Great Tamer
5 - 6 July 2019
ROHM Theatre Kyoto
(Kyoto)
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This work marks the Japan debut of Greek director and choreographer Papaioannou, known for supervising the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2004 Athens Olympics. A collage-like production that purports to span the history of the human race across space and time, from creation to death, it alludes to the powerful gravitational pull and and oppressive structure of a Western-centric worldview, but does not venture deeper to explore its foundations. A wordless performance, it is busy with cultural references but diffuse in impact.
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Samuel Beckett: Not I
27 - 30 June 2019
Lumen Gallery
(Kyoto)
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In Beckett's play Not I, a disembodied mouth floating in darkness speaks in fragments about an unnamed woman. This staging utilized an original imaging device known as a "boxless camera obscura." The point of the production was to simultaneously highlight the novelty of the device in the history of performances of the work and its self-referentiality as an imaging medium. But how did this relate to the bound state of the protagonist's body, or the oppressive nature of her circumstances? Other, more critical possibilities loom beyond the immediate objectives of this particular production.
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Syoin Kajii: Dive to Bangladesh

14 June - 4 August 2019

Kanzan Gallery
(Tokyo)
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Photographer Kajii was spurred to "dive" into Bangladesh when he reported on the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory that killed over 1,000 workers in suburban Dhaka in 2013. Though Rana Plaza did subcontract work for world-famous apparel brands, the young people employed there barely eked out a living and lived in slum conditions. These images vividly convey the realities of life in Bangladesh, a country that barely registers on the radar of most contemporary Japanese.
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Ikuko Sekita: Hamanasu
7 - 10 June 2019
Scool
(Tokyo)
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Sekita's play Hamanasu (the rosa rugosa flower, sometimes called the Japanese rose) shifts back and forth between two stories, one about a parent and child, the other about a group of children going to school together. The first plotline delineates the conflicts of a father and daughter until the father remarries and the daughter finishes school and leaves for Tokyo. What is interesting is the way that these two narratives intertwine, with one sometimes blending into the other in ambiguous gradations.
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