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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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Neo Dadaism Organizers

18 March - 4 April 2020
Gallery 58
(Tokyo)
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This show commemorated the 60th anniversary of Neo-Dada, an avant-garde artists' group founded in 1960 that disbanded after only half a year. Dominating the exhibit space is Ushio Shinohara's monumental painting memorializing a trip to Paris, with motifs allegedly ranging from the Louvre pyramid to a couple dining in Saint-Germain. Though these images are virtually unrecognizable in Shinohara's wild swathes of paint, the ferocity of his colors and brushwork has not faded with time.
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Shoji Sekine: A Retrospective
1 February - 3 March 2020
Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura Annex
(Kanagawa)
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Western-style artist Sekine died in 1919 at the tender age of 20; this show marked that centenary. One striking feature of his portraits is that there is no light reflected -- i.e., no white spot -- in the eyes of his subjects. A portrait artist typically adds that spark of life to the pupils as a finishing touch. Whether he was painting or sketching, Sekine never did, a quirk that gives all of his human figures an unsettling aura.
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Naoki Ohji: Tokara / Kawasaki

29 March - 3 April 2020
Photographers' Gallery
(Tokyo)
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In this solo show, photographer Ohji (b. 1977) displayed two series he has worked on for much of his career. Their subjects could not be more dissimilar: Kawasaki captures the gritty industrial ambience of the titular city, while Tokara lingers over the string of small subtropical islands by that name stretching between Kyushu and Amami-Oshima far to the southwest. Next time, though, it would behoove the artist to devise a format that links these two seemingly antipodal places together. The result would be a unique and powerful overview of the entire Japanese archipelago.
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Wakadan-san and Goinkyo-san: The Suitcase
6 - 8 March 2020
Theatre E9 Kyoto
(Kyoto)
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A novel staging of The Suitcase, a play by Kobo Abe. The challenge posed by this work is how to bring its fundamental absurdity into relief through the realistic, dialogic script. This production adopts the effective strategy of having three actors apply three radically different interpretations, each with its own distinct balance of realization and abstraction.
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Hitoshi Fugo: Watchers
5 - 29 March 2019
Fugensha
(Tokyo)
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In his 1997 black and white photo collection Flying Frying Pan, Fugo (b. 1947) transformed a simple kitchen pan into a shape-shifting microcosm of the universe. Since then he has continued to produce works that strip away the quotidian surface from objects and people, reducing them to abstractions of their essence. Watchers is a bit of a departure from this concept. Here he shoots people watching something -- we don't know what -- from behind, the backs of their heads and the garments they wear vividly delineated in color prints that somehow lack the abstract, symbolic mystique of his monochrome work.
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Munemasa Takahashi: Spinning a Yarn
12 February - 23 March 2020
PGI
(Tokyo)
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Takahashi's recent photo series comprises 30 monochrome prints on a variety of themes: landscapes, objects, and wedding-birth-childrearing sequences, to name a few. There are many images of water -- flowing, still, agitated, oozing. Rather than merely seeking to capture a picture of "something," he seems to be snapping the shutter in an instinctive response to his own internal sensor's apprehension of that "something."
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Atsuko Murano Abalos: Fossa Magna

6 March - 19 April 2020

POST
(Tokyo)
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Abalos's solo show at POST included not only a series of photos (including some rock fragments) of outcroppings of the Fossa Magna, the great rift zone that bisects Honshu, but also snapshots of everyday activities, her husband Carlos Abalos's kanji practice books, and more. In the narrow confines of this gallery the installation felt a bit cramped; the section devoted to daily life in particular would benefit from expansion. If Abalos continues with this project, it could easily evolve into something even more substantive.
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Sohei Nishino: Tokaido
1 - 7 April 2020
Nihombashi Mitsukoshi Contemporary Gallery
(Tokyo)
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Nishino shoots copious photographs of places he visits, cuts them up and arranges them in mosaic-like collages that reconstruct local landscapes. In the winter of 2017 he spent a month walking and shooting the 492-kilometer Tokaido highway from Tokyo to Kyoto. The process of moving from point to point along a route in this manner adds a different kind of weight to his work.
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Beyond the Borders
15 February - 22 March 2020
Meguro Museum of Art
(Tokyo)
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The museum showcased works from its collection by artists who transcended the demarcation between Japanese-style (Nihonga) and Western-style painting. They range from Kiyoo Kawamura (1852-1934), who painted realistic oils of Japanese motifs on such traditional media as screens, silk, and fans, to the artists of the Pan Real Art Association who introduced avant-garde elements to postwar Nihonga, to Naoki Suwa (1954-90), who brought to Nihonga the perspective of a contemporary artist.
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Hiroshi Nomura: Merandi

22 February - 4 April 2020

Poetic Scape
(Tokyo)
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Over the last couple of decades Nomura has vigorously added to his protean portfolio in diverse media, notably photography, which earned him the 31st Society of Photography Prize in 2019. In his Merandi series, however, he returns to his painterly roots with oils that vibrate with his special brand of idiosyncratic energy.
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