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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 further notice as a preventive measure against the spread of the coronavirus. Before visiting, please check with the museum.

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Sankar Venkateswaran: Indian Rope Trick

22 - 23 February 2020
Kyoto Art Theater
(Kyoto)
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In this new work, which premiered in Kyoto, the Indian director casts a gimlet eye on the history and contemporary society of his homeland. During the first half the titular trick is recreated in varying iterations by the performers based on its treatment in different eras by different protagonists. In the second half, the story of the rope trick is transmuted through the introduction of new elements.
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Treasures from Budapest: European and Hungarian Masterpieces
4 December 2019 - 29 March 2020
The National Art Center, Tokyo
(Tokyo)
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Hungary does not immediately leap to mind as a leading light in the history of Western art. Assembling some 130 works from the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest and the Hungarian National Gallery, this show suggests as much by starting out with a batch of paintings by masters from other countries -- Lucas Cranach the Elder, Titian, El Greco and so on. It suddenly gets interesting, however, when it moves into the late 19th century and introduces some very modernist expressions by Hungarian artists.
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Emerging Artscape: The State of Our Collection
18 January - 31 March 2020
Artizon Museum
(Tokyo)
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This was the inaugural exhibition of the newly opened Artizon Museum, which replaces the venerable Bridgestone Museum of Art (closed in 2015) in a new, larger space on the same Ginza site. Showcasing some 200 works selected from the 2,800 in the museum's collection, it offered a number of curious juxtapositions, such as the placement of Shoji Sekine's Boy between Picasso's Saltimbanque Seated with Arms Crossed and Matisse's Striped Jacket. All three are portraits painted a century ago, but against Picasso and Matisse's lightly executed pieces, Sekine's looks heavy and somber despite its bright colors.
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Kiyotaka Morooka: Expression of Chance
13 February - 28 March 2020
Canon Gallery S
(Tokyo)
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Morooka's latest solo show presents a series of photos he shot on a trip to Paris after his retirement from teaching at university. These 70 color works are full of a vitality reflective, perhaps, of his reinvigorated career as a photographer. Morooka describes his creation of photographic art as motivated by a "longing for wisdom" and "the thrill of new encounters." Sojourns in foreign lands open a path for us from the mundane to the extraordinary, allowing us to see familiar objects transformed into something magical.
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Vilhelm Hammersh∅i and Danish Painting of the 19th Century
21 January - 26 March 2020
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum
(Tokyo)
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Most of this show is given over to other Danish painters, but the final section, "Vilhelm Hammersh∅i: In the Urban Solitude and Silence," brings together some 40 of the titular artist's works. Of special note are two oils in which he has copied reliefs on Greek themes, both in frontal views. Wall, ceiling, and floor boundaries form horizontal lines against which the pillars and walls stand at perfect right angles. This geometric composition of perpendicular lines accents the rectangularity of the picture plane, a trait that emphatically demonstrates the kinship between Hammersh∅i's work and that of Vermeer.
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Kazuo Shiraga: A Retrospective
11 January - 22 March 2020
Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery
(Tokyo)
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In 1955 Shiraga began painting with his feet as a means of foregrounding the effects of chance. The style quickly became his trademark, and he embellished it over the years with such experiments as restricting the movement of the feet, and painting on fur. At one point he switched to working with a squeegee. His foot painting could be said to consist simply of pushing paint around on the canvas. In his squeegee works, however, he applied the paint atop a primer coat, giving a more multilayered texture to the pictorial space.
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Ii Naosuke and Yokohama: 110th Anniversary of the Kamonyama Statue

8 February - 22 March 2020

Kanagawa Prefectural Museum of Cultural History
(Kanagawa)
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This show commemorated the 110th anniversary of the bronze statue of Ii Naosuke (1815-60) that stands in Yokohama's Kamonyama Park. A daimyo who ruled the Omi Hikone domain near Lake Biwa, Ii was called to service in Edo in the last days of the Shogunate and, as its chief minister, was instrumental in concluding Japan's Treaty of Amity and Commerce with the United States -- hence his statue's location overlooking Yokohama harbor. The exhibit conveys the significance of such statuary in a modernizing Japan, and by extension, its relationship to contemporary public art.
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Hiromi Tsuchida: Aging 1986-2018
5 February - 1 March 2020
Communication Gallery Fugensha
(Tokyo)
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Fugensha's first exhibition at its new location in Meguro, Aging is a still-in-progress series of self-portraits. Nearly every day since 1986, veteran photographer Tsuchida (b. 1939) has shot a close-up of his face, and continues to do so 34 years on. There is something moving about this unsentimental chronicle of the inexorable process of aging, initiated when the subject was still a youthful forty-something. Biologist Shin'ichi Fukuoka writes that the series poses such fundamental questions as "What is life?" and "What is time?"
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Two People Show
1 - 29 February 2020
Contemporary Art Gallery Chika
(Tokyo)
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Two People is an artist unit formed in 2019 by Naohiro Utagawa and Daisuke Yokota. Their m.o. focuses mostly on the process of creating works, rather than on the finished product. Here, different videos played on monitors scattered around a darkened gallery space. The random images and sounds collectively told the story of a journey somewhere in the north -- probably Hokkaido -- with footage shot by the artists interspersed with comments on their thoughts about photography.
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Kuta Takashima: 20XX
12 - 25 February 2020
Nikon Plaza Ginza
(Tokyo)
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Takashima has won a number of prizes since he began exhibiting his photographic art in 2012. These are not real-world images, but syntheses of "imagery inside me and photos I've taken of the outside world" with which he constructs "a world of purity and clarity." Partly due to a predilection for monochrome photography, his works have an air of 19th-century pictorialism about them. This solo show represented a summing-up of his oeuvre so far.
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