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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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Insects: Models for Design
19 July - 4 November 2019
21_21 Design Sight
(Tokyo)
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As the title suggests, human beings have long looked to other living creatures as models for their inventions, just as birds provided inspiration for airplane design. Another lesson this show imparts is that our perception of insects as beautiful or ugly depends on the eye of the beholder, and there is a very fine line between those judgments.
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Yutaka Hatta: Touch the Streams
6 July - 10 November 2019
Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art
(Hyogo)
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After Hatta (b. 1930) lost his eyesight in the 1990s, he began a series of works he dubbed "Streams," which he painted by dipping his fingers in a white paste of kozo mulberry bark, a raw material for handmade washi paper. When these planar works are hung on a wall, they evoke not so much roiled water surfaces or vast expanses of grassland or desert as they do strata of earth. This is the 30th installment of the museum's Form in Art -- Perceiving with the Hand series presenting art that is meant to be touched. Touching Hatta's "streams," one can feel multiple layers of time as well as a realization of the inordinate weight given to the sense of sight in most art-appreciation experiences.
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Yasuko Iba, A Way of Seeing

20 July - 9 October 2019
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum
(Tokyo)
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In these paintings of vases and other vessels, the scenery around the subject is applied in layers so that one seems to be viewing the vessel through a glass case or a lace curtain. This approach simultaneously creates a multilayered space and reduces the presence of the vessel -- yet surprisingly, it maintains an effect of flatness rather than of depth. One is struck by Iba's concern with depicting the air around the vessel more than the vessel itself.
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Syncopation: Contemporary Encounters with the Modern Masters
10 August - 1 December 2019
Pola Museum of Art
(Kanagawa)
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The museum pairs works from its much-vaunted modern art collection with those by 12 contemporary artists. Next to one of Monet's original Water Lilies, for example, Cテゥleste Boursier-Mougenot, known for sound installations that incorporate randomness, has built a circular blue pond on which float numerous white dishes of varying sizes. Visually, they form a scene that is indeed reminiscent of lilies on a pond, but they also introduce a sonic element -- the reverberation of the dry "clinks" the floating vessels make when they collide.
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Reading Images: The Time of Photography
10 August - 4 November 2019
Tokyo Photographic Art Museum
(Tokyo)
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As exhibitions drawn from a museum's own collection repeat over time, a certain sameness is bound to creep in. It's hard to come up with a fresh angle every time, especially when you own over 35,000 photos, as TOP does. Still, this latest "from the collection" effort has its merits, notably a rare chance to see Naoya Hatakeyama's Slow Glass/Tokyo, as well as two series by Rinko Kawauchi, Illuminance and Iridescence.
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Kyoto Experiment 2019
5 - 27 October 2019
ROHM Theatre Kyoto, other venues
(Kyoto)
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This 10th edition of the Kyoto International Performing Arts Festival offers a program of 11 productions and exhibitions under the theme of "Échos-monde: The Age of Ecology." It is also the final presentation by Yusuke Hashimoto, who has served as program director since the festival's inception. This year's festival appears to have two focuses: (1) forming new collaborations among past participants and (2) building on last year's showcase of female and female-identifying artists and groups.
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Leo Lionni for Everyone
13 July - 29 September 2019
Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Museum of Art
(Tokyo)
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In Lionni's famous picture book Little Blue and Little Yellow, there are scenes of children of different colors happily playing together in what is surely a subtle statement against racial discrimination. While reading several of the picture books displayed in this show, I was struck by how many of Lionni's works carry similar messages. He addresses the role of art in society, the importance of being true to yourself, the paramount need for peace, all in a gentle voice from a child's perspective. Not only that, the pictures are beautiful.
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Statements from Galleries: Focusing on a New Generation in Tokyo 2019
1 June - 15 July 2019
iGallery, other venues
(Tokyo)
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This was the 20th iteration of the "New Generation" series of exhibitions, which began in 1993. The brainchild of ten rental galleries in Ginza and Kyobashi, Tokyo, it started out as an attempt to highlight the value and significance of such galleries at a time when young artists were deserting them in the wake of the "bubble economy" era. The "New Generation" project can also be seen as an attempt by the rental galleries to reinvent themselves as alternative spaces.
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TOKAS-Emerging 2019, Part 1

20 July - 18 August 2019

Tokyo Arts and Space
(Tokyo)
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The first part of TOKAS's annual showcase of emerging artists introduced three women. A standout was Nodoka Odawara's exhibition Sculpting Overcoming Modernity, in some respects more of a research report than an art show. Odawara, who had studied sculpture, wondered why so many nude female statues appear in city parks and elsewhere, and why they are given titles like "Peace." These questions led her to the 1951 sculptures of three nude women, titled Statues of Peace, that stand in Miyakezaka, Tokyo and are the central motif of her project.
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Animals of Meissen
6 July - 23 September 2019
Panasonic Shiodome Museum of Art
(Tokyo)
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Founded in Germany during the 17th century, when Chinese and Japanese porcelain was all the rage in Europe, Meissen is known as the continent's first porcelain maker. This show featured Meissen's famous "Monkey Band" and other works of applied art based on myths and fables, vessels decorated with bird and insect motifs, and animal sculptures in art-nouveau and art-deco styles. The robust figures and lively expressions of the animals are a delight to see.
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