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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.

Note: Many museums in Japan are closed until mid-March as a preventive measure against the spread of the coronavirus. Before visiting, please check with the museum.

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World Book Design 2018-19
14 December 2019 - 29 March 2020
Printing Museum P&P Gallery
(Tokyo)
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In a world overrun by e-books and the Internet, we can be grateful for the continuation of the "Best Book Design from all over the World" competition held every March in Leipzig by the German book art foundation, Stiftung Buchkunst. This exhibition brings together 170 titles, including winners in the 2019 contest, in which over 30 countries participated, along with other books with prizewinning designs from seven countries -- Japan, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Canada, and China. Visitors are free to pick up the books and browse through them.
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Ayako Suwa: Taste of Reminiscence, Delicacies from Nature
18 January - 22 March 2020
Shiseido Gallery
(Tokyo)
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Suwa's artistic medium of choice -- food -- no doubt resonates with more people than painting or sculpture possibly could. Her food presentations mobilize all the senses, not just taste but smell, touch, sight, and even hearing through musical performances. This show focuses on smell. Eight items emitting "smells of reminiscence" perch on columns surrounding a circular table in the center of the gallery; the periphery serves as a "ritual room" for savoring "tastes of reminiscence" as well as occasional performances.
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Dreams of Life Connected by Modern Design

11 January - 22 March 2020
Panasonic Shiodome Museum of Art
(Tokyo)
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For those who wonder how and when Japanese design made the shift to mass production, this show provides an overview of the process through the work of such seminal influences on modern Japanese design, both prewar and postwar, as Bruno Taut, Fusaichiro Inoue, Antonin and Noémi Raymond, Isamu Kenmochi, George Nakashima, and Isamu Noguchi. It becomes clear that all were aficionados of traditional Japanese architecture and lifestyles who made ample use of Japanese artisanship and materials. Here one can see their struggles to incorporate such elements into their vision of rational, functional modern design.
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Impossible Architecture: The Architects' Dreams
7 January - 15 March 2020
The National Museum of Art, Osaka
(Osaka)
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Architectural exhibitions face a dilemma not suffered by art shows: they can't install entire buildings in the gallery. This show evades that problem by focusing on works from the early 20th century onward that were never actually built. Some were too radical to win a competition, while others stirred controversy by critiquing the competition itself. Indeed, insofar as incompletion connotes unrealized potential, such works stand as tacit critiques of the status quo.
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Forever Saul Leiter
9 January - 8 March 2020
Bunkamura The Museum
(Tokyo)
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Just three years after its first Saul Leiter (1923-2013) retrospective, Bunkamura The Museum is holding another one. This iteration showcases two series of Leiter's celebrated snapshots of life in New York City. One consists of scenes captured at a distance, almost surreptitiously; the other offers intimate portraits of people close to him -- two contrasting sides of the iconic New York photographer's oeuvre.
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Noe Aoki: Fog, Iron and Mountains
14 December 2019 - 1 March 2020
Fuchu Art Museum
(Tokyo)
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Aoki has held a number of solo shows in art museums, but this one is exceptional. She is comfortable with modifying the size and shape of her iron sculptures to fit the venue, and the roomy spaces at the Fuchu Art Museum accommodate 17 sculptures grouped in eight installations. The three main galleries that hold just one work each are especially striking, because even one of her sculptures transforms the entire room into an installation. Though Aoki melt-cuts and welds the components of her works at her studio, they can only be assembled and displayed in full, she says, in exhibition spaces like these.
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Tokyo 2020 Official Art Posters Exhibition
7 January - 16 February 2020
Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo
(Tokyo)
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In hindsight, design-related projects for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics appeared to be jinxed for a while. Five years have passed since the accusations of plagiarism leveled at designer Kenjiro Sano for his Olympic emblem, and the last-minute rejection of architect Zaha Hadid's design for the New National Stadium. Maybe it's best to let sleeping dogs lie, but as one looks at the 20 official posters for the 2020 games on display here, it's hard not to recall those troubled times.
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art trip vol. 3: in number, new world
7 December 2019 - 9 February 2020
Ashiya City Museum of Art and History
(Hyogo)
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The art trip exhibition series introduces works by contemporary artists juxtaposed with items from the museum's collection. In last year's "vol. 2," the participating artists selected companion pieces according to their own interests or the exhibition theme and displayed them next to, or as part of, their own installations. This year's general theme was "numbers," with the incorporation of other artists' works under such subthemes as "numerals" and "time" imparting a multitiered, interlocking aspect to exhibits by the four featured artists -- Norio Imai, Michiko Tsuda, Yuta Nakamura, and Tsuyoshi Hisada.
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gallop: Doubleplus Goodful Ungood

31 January - 2 February 2020

Studio Varie
(Kyoto)
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A performance work based on George Orwell's dystopian novel 1984 about life in the near future under an all-seeing totalitarian state. Founded by graduates of the Department of Performing Arts at the Kyoto University of Art and Design, the "gallop" group staged fragmentary scenes that used physical action and monologues to give form to Orwell's themes of control and alienation, love and hate, desire and violence.
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Machines with a Heart Again
28 December 2019 - 2 February 2020
BankART Station + BankART SILK
(Kanagawa)
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In this sequel to the 2008 Machines with a Heart exhibition at Yokohama's BankART space, the contraptions were the polar opposite of hi-spec IT or AI devices -- lo-tech, guffaw-inducing, given to sudden outbursts of noise, useless and eminently lovable. Tatsuji Ushijima's "Afternoon of the Straight Cucumbers (Competition)" consisted of a wagon mounted with a monitor racing along a narrow circuit. Nao Nishihara's "Diligent Machine" boasted two vehicles mounted with oil drums on which mallets beat out agitated, crazy rhythms as they inched slowly along a track.
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