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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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image image 15 May 2020
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White on White - An experiment with white porcelain and words
13 March - 5 July 2020
Atelier Muji Ginza
(Tokyo)
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A unique take on the art of white porcelain. There are many ways to interpret the significance of plain white porcelain in modern design, and this show chooses to do so through "words" -- in this case the avant-garde poetry of Katue Kitasono (1902-78), whose celebrated concrete poem "Monotonous Space" adorns the outer wall of the gallery. It's a refreshing context within which to view the spread of white tableware on display.
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Theater Commons Tokyo '20
27 February - 8 March 2020
Minato ward, Tokyo
(Tokyo)
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Even as the coronavirus-dictated shutdown of public theatrical performances began to take hold, we were fortunate to make it to two works out of several by an international roster of playwrights at venues in central Tokyo. In Prometheus Bound, Meiro Koizumi utilized VR technology to plunge audience members into a virtual world of his creation, while Silke Huysmans and Hannes Dereere employed smartphones to stage their documentary piece Pleasant Island. Both merit evaluation as "post-corona" works that suggest alternate means of production at a time when the exit from lockdown still seems far off.
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Narumi Hiramoto: narconearco

18 February - 14 March 2020
Guardian Garden
(Tokyo)
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In a solo show he earned as grand prize winner in the 20th "1_WALL" Photography Competition, Hiramoto presented a series of collages made from photos he picks out of the local newspaper delivered to his home every day. These were accompanied by articles of "fake news" inspired by the images. If Hiramoto finds a way to link his works so as to pose an even larger riddle than they do individually, the skewed take on reality he offers might acquire even greater breadth and depth.
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SDL: Re-2020
8 March 2020
Sendai Mediatheque
(Miyagi)
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Sendai Design League (SDL) is an annual event that draws some 2,000 architecture students to Sendai to submit their graduation designs in a competition for "best in Japan." This year, as a precaution against the coronavirus, the usual exhibition of hundreds of models and drawings was cancelled. Instead, the works were displayed and their merits debated by jurors online. What was striking was the relaxed mood of the finalists as they fielded questions from the comfort of their own habitats. The success of this cyber-competition experiment may carry implications for the format of next year's SDL.
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City Killer
5 - 10 March 2020
Atelier Shunpusha
(Tokyo)
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Originally slated to run from 5 to 10 March 2020, this production by students in the Actors Course at the Film School of Tokyo ultimately took place in a no-audience format. Playwright and director Ryu Motohashi frequently employs the strategy of superposing two unrelated events on the same space-time frame. Here, he put the constraints on the production to advantage in an examination of how human beings coexist in the same world even as they see it from diverging perspectives.
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The Vision of Contemporary Art 2020
12 - 30 March 2020
Ueno Royal Museum
(Tokyo)
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In this year's iteration of the annual show, one standout was a work by Rui Mizuki, who applied white paint to a rough sandpaper-like surface, then printed symbol-like motifs on that. The backing was not really sandpaper but deck tape used on skateboards, the paint was the type applied to pavement, and the symbols were marks used by road construction workers. In one sense, it resembled a street painting peeled off the asphalt and set upright -- or, rather, as one viewer put it, "a painting converted into a street."
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Chiten: Crime and Punishment
20 - 22 March 2020
Kyoto Art Theater Shunjuza Studio21
(Kyoto)
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In the Kyoto-based Chiten theatre company's version of Dostoevsky's classic, the script does a masterful job of raising issues about anonymity and mass surveillance against the backdrop of a deserted city street in 19th-century Russia. It also proved prophetic in its references to a terrifying epidemic breaking out in the nether regions of Asia. In the last scene a voice cries bleakly, "Is anybody there?" Nobody answers. Is it the silence of death following a process of culling according to the exclusion principle? Or the apocalyptic silence of cultural death brought on by the imposition of a plague-prompted lockdown?
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Theatre Sokudo: Landscapes, landscapes, and the scene (subtitles as the landscape)
5 - 8 March 2020
Online
(Kyoto)
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Unable to perform one of its works as scheduled due to the coronavirus crisis, Theatre Sokudo has created and posted a video piece in its stead that takes the original work's concepts (exploring the relationship between words and actors, utilizing silence, repetition, and subtitles) and applies them to footage shot on the streets of Kyoto. What makes this more than just a recording of a street performance is the insertion of "subtitles" that describe and appear to direct the actions of unwitting passersby. The device has the intrusive effect of framing all the behavior occurring on the street as part of a staged drama.
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Hirotaka Fukui: Interior

12 - 15 March 2020

Theatre E9 Kyoto
(Kyoto)
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Audience members are asked to bring an object from their own living quarters to the theater and place it in the performance space, which is set up like a room in someone's house. They are then invited to view Fukui's performance "together with the objects." The work can be seen as part of the trending genre of "theater of objects" performed from a non-human, non-actorly viewpoint, but it also has a political edge in its exploration of how personal space can be reinforced or dismantled by the placement or rearrangement of the things that occupy it.
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Naotoshi Oda: Es ist gut

11 - 15 March 2020

SCOOL
(Tokyo)
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This tale of five men and women in Tokyo on March 11, 2011, the day of the Great East Japan Earthquake, was first staged at Shinjuku Ganka Garou in October 2016. Since 2018 it has been revisited with slight modifications every March at the SCOOL performance space in the Tokyo suburb of Mitaka. A girl stranded in Shinjuku in the first scene begins walking west toward her home in faraway Kokubunji, and Mitaka is where she stops en route at the end of the play. As they leave the theatre, those in attendance are thus resuming her trek by proxy.
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