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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: Most of Japan's museums and galleries have reopened, but conditions and anti-coronavirus precautions vary. If you are planning a visit, please check the venue's website beforehand.

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image image 1 October 2020
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MANGA ⇔ TOKYO
12 August - 3 November 2020
The National Art Center, Tokyo
(Tokyo)
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This show returns home from a triumphal 2018 run in Paris. A gargantuan 1/1000 scale model of Tokyo is surrounded by screens showing games, anime, and live-action films set in the metropolis -- among them the dystopian Akira and the city-toppling special-effects classic Godzilla. Contemporary Tokyo is represented not only by such hot spots as Shibuya and Akihabara, but also funkier neighborhoods like Kameari and Tsukudajima. As in the best fiction, portrayals of the city in manga can feel more real than the reality.
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STARS: Six Contemporary Artists from Japan to the World
31 July 2020 - 3 January 2021
Mori Art Museum
(Tokyo)
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The Mori brings together six "superstars" of contemporary Japanese art: Yayoi Kusama, Lee Ufan, Tatsuo Miyajima, Yoshitomo Nara, Takashi Murakami, and Hiroshi Sugimoto. More interesting than the celebrity-trip aspect of the show is the way it reveals the disparities in these artists' ways of thinking about art and in their stances toward exhibitions per se. An archival look at overseas exhibitions of contemporary Japanese art since 1950 shows that even these luminaries had a hard time gaining international recognition.
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Dazzling Skins: Life Illuminated From Death
25 August - 3 November 2020
Ashikaga Museum of Art
(Tochigi)
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Eight contemporary photographers were invited to participate in this group show on the broad theme of the interplay of life and death in day-to-day existence. Though stylistically diverse, their works collectively remind us that life and death are not polar opposites but two sides of the same coin, arising from and illuminating one another. The great care taken in the arrangement of each artist's exhibit space and of the individual works accentuates the underlying concept of the photograph -- an image affixed to a thin sheet of paper -- as a metaphor for the skin, the body's interface between life and death.
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Contemporary Japanese Crafts: Reinterpretation, Exquisite Craftsmanship, and Aesthetic Exploration
18 July - 22 September 2020
Panasonic Shiodome Museum of Art
(Tokyo)
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Europe, and particularly France, has lately seen the emergence of what might be termed a new art movement, known as "fine crafts." Exploring creative new approaches through which to display their talents and utilize their tools and materials, contemporary artisans are producing works that merit appraisal as fine art. As this exhibition of work by 12 currently active Japanese craft-artists attests, the trend has found fertile soil in this country, where practitioners trained in traditional crafts are finding novel ways to transcend the constraints of those traditions.
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100 Years of Czech Design

31 July - 22 September 2020
The Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura & Hayama
(Kanagawa)
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Commemorating the centenary of relations between Japan and the Czech Republic, this show provided an edifying overview of the long and lustrous history of Czech art and design. A mecca for such movements as Art Nouveau, Cubism, and Art Deco, the country has survived a tumultuous century of world wars, invasion, and occupation without flagging in its creative output. Today, the primary Czech industries are automotive, machinery, chemical, and tourism, further testimony to a solid tradition of "making things." In this regard Japanese viewers will note that the two nations have much in common.
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Hasegawa Loka: Restored artworks from his youth
11 July - 27 September 2020
Fujisawa City Art Space
(Kanagawa)
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Known as a pioneer of mosaic and fresco techniques in Japan, Hasegawa (1897-1967) studied in Paris during the 1920s. Initially a Nihonga (Japanese-style painting) artist, he began working with oils when he moved to France and by the following year was exhibiting in Paris salons. Though this show features only a few of his works, it makes up for that dearth with thorough presentations on the process of restoring them and on the relocation of a pair of mosaic murals Hasegawa made for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics to a new home in the recently completed National Stadium.
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Ryu Ika: The Second Seeing
18 August - 12 September 2020
Guardian Garden
(Tokyo)
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Viewing the photographs of the Inner Mongolia-born artist Ryu Ika inevitably brings to mind the term "alienation effect." Her images are a collision of objects, people, and events, emitting an eerie energy that makes the familiar seem strange. This meticulously organized installation seemed above all to express the artist's intense discomfort with the constant monitoring and control to which people are subjected in contemporary society.
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Hiroyoshi Yamazaki: Around Lake Town 7 -- social distance
1 - 11 August 2020
Gallery YOCTO
(Tokyo)
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A "new town" housing and shopping complex that opened in 2008, Koshigaya Lake Town sprawls across southeast Koshigaya, a city in Saitama Prefecture just north of Tokyo. Yamazaki began photographing the landscape and inhabitants of this area, which was once all rice paddies, in 2014. Shooting everyday scenes in color with an air of cool detachment, he was confronted this year with the challenge of portraying the transformation of this environment by the coronavirus. And indeed, that becomes the focus of interest by viewers of these images.
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Shinya Arimoto: Tokyo Debugger 2019

21 July - 2 August 2020

Totem Pole Photo Gallery
(Tokyo)
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A debugger is a program for removing computer bugs, but photographer Arimoto is referring here to real insects, the primary subject of his series -- along with snakes, fungi, and other somewhat creepy fauna and flora. He snapped these shots with a macro lens on a 6 x 6 format camera in the mountains of Takao and Okutama just west of Tokyo. The clarity of the monochrome prints testifies to his commitment to this undertaking.
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Katsuhiko Kimura: Drifters

25 July - 9 August 2020

Fugensha
(Tokyo)
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The flotsam that the sea heaves up on its shores is a not uncommon subject of photography. Most of the time the images seem intended to depict such objects as negative symbols of contemporary civilization that sully the surrounding natural environment. But in these photos taken between 2016 and 2020 on various beaches around Japan, Kimura does not appear to be trying to drive home any particular message about environmental destruction. His "drifters" evince a placid self-containment amidst the gentle vistas of sea and shore around them.
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