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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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Legendary Chair Craftsman, Shigeki Miyamoto
5 September - 23 November 2019
LIXIL Gallery
(Tokyo)
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Japan's first furniture modeler, Miyamoto (b. 1937) creates prototypes based on a designer's sketches and plans, giving them a shape and structure conducive to their actual manufacture. Some of the exhibits here display the bare-bones frames of chairs and sofas, prompting this reviewer to recall the sight of a dismantled sofa just the other day. If you ever wonder how those soft, comfortable articles of furniture were made, this show offers an opportunity to find out.
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Illuminating Landscapes: The Integration of Art and Science
10 September - 1 December 2019
National Museum of Nature and Science
(Tokyo)
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For this exhibition, the museum invited its own experts on zoology, botany, geology, anthropology, and engineering to bring their particular perspectives to the analysis of landscape photographs by Yoshihiko Ueda. The result is a series of concise lessons in the Earth's history and activity as reflected in the images. In the section "Rome and Rock," for example, photos of Rome are accompanied by a description of the types of stone used to build the streets and monuments of the city. Every picture in this show tells a similarly unexpected story.
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Kaj Franck: Geometry

21 September - 25 December 2019
The Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura & Hayama
(Kanagawa)
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Though Alvar Aalto may be better known in Japan, there is another Finnish designer with an even deeper connection to the country: Kaj Franck (1911-89), who had an abiding fascination with all things Japanese and visited here in the 1950s. The key to understanding Franck's work is geometry -- his concept of modern design begins with the circle, the triangle, and the square. This exhibition provides insights not only into the evolution of Franck's design and production techniques, but also the profundity and maturity of the man himself.
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Image Narratives: Literature in Japanese Contemporary Art
28 August - 11 November 2019
The National Art Center, Tokyo
(Tokyo)
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The six contemporary Japanese artists brought together here share an interest in so-called "literary elements" of one sort or another. It is a concept open to fairly loose interpretation. The media the artists employ -- photographs, videos, objects, performances, installations -- are as varied as their ages, which range from 38 to 65. Still, what could have become a rather haphazard assemblage achieves a surprising unity, with the disparate works effectively complementing one another and creating an ambience with just the right amount of tension.
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Ken Kitano "Gathering light"
17 September - 10 November 2019
Shadai Gallery
(Tokyo)
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For his Gathering light series, Kitano set his camera in a fixed position and recorded the path of the sun from the winter to the summer solstice. This unprecedented attempt at a six-month time-lapse exposure yielded images far exceeding the photographer's expectations, he says. Sometimes rainwater got into the camera, or the device itself malfunctioned. But the process expressed by the title, and its execution in this manner, in some sense epitomize a return to the essence of photography.
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Takashi Kojima: PARFUM
1 - 6 October 2019
Kunst Arzt
(Kyoto)
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A solo exhibition showcasing two series of three-dimensional works by Kojima, made of plastic model runners and Chanel No. 5 perfume-bottle stoppers respectively. Transforming normally discarded plastic waste into "jewelry," or making necklaces, rings, and brooches out of the multifaceted glass stoppers in his PARFUM series, Kojima toys with our notions of what constitutes value in ambiguous objects that could be construed as either critique or homage.
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Ingo Maurer: Poetry and High-Tech
11 September - 7 October 2019
Matsuya Ginza Design Gallery 1953
(Tokyo)
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Known as a "poet" or "magician" of light, the lighting designer Ingo Maurer, who died just last month at age 87, was without peer in his profession. This show featured well-known products like his iconic Bulb as well as recent works like Lucellino, a light bulb sprouting angel's wings. A special delight was La Festa delle Farfalle with its flock of dancing butterflies. One left the gallery feeling that one had witnessed Maurer's designs at their most poetic.
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Tokyo 2021: un/real engine
14 September - 20 October 2019
Toda Building 1F
(Tokyo)
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Curator Yohei Kurose built this exhibition around the premise that the upcoming Tokyo Olympics (2020) and Osaka Expo (2025) both function as major national festivals, which in the past have always been preceded by national-scale disasters. Some 30 participating artists and art units submitted works on this dual theme of "festival" and "disaster," and there was much worth seeing. One of the most brilliant strokes was the choice of venue, a construction company headquarters in downtown Tokyo that was about to be demolished. Ostensibly a "festive" art event celebrating a new departure for the host company even as it paraded dire prophecies of Tokyo's future, this was an impressive gathering of extremely ominous "disaster" art.
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Megalomania Botany

21 May - 6 October 2019

JP Tower Museum Intermediatheque
(Tokyo)
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A water lily pad you can stand on, a meter-wide butterbur leaf, a traveller's palm frond two meters long . . . This was a mind-boggling collection of real-life monster plant specimens, dried, preserved, and framed in their entirety. Natural history museums insist on displaying the real thing, the result being specimens like these -- so large they resemble works of contemporary art, or bring to mind Borges' fantasy of a 1:1-scale "map of the empire whose size was that of the empire."
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Takashi Arai: Imago
30 August - 18 October 2019
PGI
(Tokyo)
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Arai specializes in daguerreotype photography. In this solo show he displayed a selection of images from his ongoing Tomorrow's History series of portraits of teenage boys and girls living in Hiroshima or in Fukushima, where a nuclear plant meltdown occurred in 2011. These young people have all inherited memories of nuclear exposure of one kind or another from their families and neighbors -- or, in Fukushima, have been exposed themselves. How does this shared experience resonate in their lives today and in the future? In seeking a visual expression of those concerns, Arai makes effective use of the daguerreotype, a challenging process that requires exposure to intense amounts of light to achieve a sharp positive image.
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