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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.

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Suda Yoshihiro: Mite Clematis
22 April - 30 October 2018
Vangi Sculpture Garden Museum
(Shizuoka)
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The garden of this museum dedicated to the Italian sculptor Giuliano Vangi features varieties of clematis flower, so one might expect that Suda, known for his tiny lifelike plant sculptures, would embellish the venue with clematis of his own making. But as is typical, he has instead chosen to stick his creations in obscure corners of the museum lobby and stairwell. Vigilance is advised if you do not wish to miss some of his works, as this visitor did. There are seven Suda pieces scattered around the premises, we are told, but it would not be surprising if more were lurking among Vangi’s sculptures outside.

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Japan in Architecture: Genealogies of Its Transformation
25 April - 17 September 2018
Mori Art Museum
(Tokyo)
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This ambitious show endeavors to trace the cultural DNA of Japan’s architectural heritage by examining characteristics of Japanese building design in nine concept-based sections. The exploration begins with the country’s ancient culture of wooden construction and moves on to such themes as the aesthetics of impermanence and the symbology of rooftops. This approach makes for a cross-sectional view of Japanese architectural history that is both entertaining and easy to grasp. (See this issue’s Focus for a detailed review.)

 

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Naohisa Hara: Mirage IV

9 May - 7 July 2018

PGI
(Tokyo)
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During long sojourns in France and Germany, Hara (b. 1946) acquired the perspective of an internationally-minded photographer. His Shinkirou (Mirage) series, shot in the 1970s and 1980s, served as the impetus for a subsequent shift from commercial to landscape/seascape photography. This selection of 25 prints from the series is on view in Japan for the first time in three decades. Though Hara has enjoyed a long and illustrious career in the interim, these early works are charmingly fresh and ingenuous.

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Naito Masatoshi: Another World Unveiled

12 May - 16 July 2018

Tokyo Photographic Art Museum
(Tokyo)

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Naito’s first photographs were science fiction-like images derived from the high-polymer reactions produced in his day job at the lab of a synthetic fiber manufacturer. In 1963, however, an encounter with northern Japan’s ancient tradition of sokushinbutsu (self-mummification by religious ascetics) triggered an interest in the historic and folkloric origins of this practice. From then on he became a fulltime documentarian of Japan’s spiritual world. As this show eloquently illustrates, his attempts to depict this netherworld are a natural extension of his experiments with the imagery randomly generated by chemical reactions.

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Akira Mizuno: Whereabouts of Reality
15 April - 1 July 2018
Takasaki City Art Museum
(Gunma)
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Realism is in fashion these days, but Mizuno stands out from the crowd of technical adepts in the genre. When he paints a mountain, for example, he may spend several years painting it over and over, incorporating all the changes in the landscape that transpire between visits. The portraits here are all the more astonishing because Mizuno has gone a step further, recording every movement of his models. In taking realism to an extreme, he has begun to transcend it.
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Photography by Okamoto Taro: For the sake of thought

28 April - 1 July 2018

Taro Okamoto Museum of Art
(Kanagawa)
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Best known as an avant-garde painter and sculptor, Okamoto was also a fine photographer. The layout of this exhibition does much to bring his camera skills into sharp relief. Of the four sections on tools, streetscapes, boundaries, and people, it is the third that most successfully spotlights the technical and intellectual processes by which Okamoto, a superb anthropologist as well, moved so fluidly between the spiritual and material worlds.
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Matazo Kayama: Re Matazo
11 April - 5 May 2018
Event Space EBiS 303
(Tokyo)
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Though ostensibly an introduction to Nihonga painter Kayama (1927-2004), this exhibition seemed bent on defying expectations. Of 32 works on display, only 11 were actual paintings -- the rest were prints, ceramic tiles, videos and whatnot. Considering that finished paintings are meant to stand alone on their own terms, it seems excessive, even insulting to the artist, to surround them with all these other paraphernalia. But like it or not, that’s the exhibition format of the future. While this show may have stirred up mixed feelings, it was undeniably entertaining.
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The 150th Anniversary of His Birth: Yokoyama Taikan
13 April - 27 May 2018
The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
(Tokyo)
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Revered as an icon of Japanese art in the modern era, Yokoyama (1868-1958) embodied the maverick camp of the Nihonga genre through the Meiji, Taisho, and early Showa periods. What this show reveals is the surprisingly eclectic breadth of his subjects, ranging from a painting of Halley’s Comet on one of its once-every-76-years visits, to pairs of six-panel gold-leaf folding screens depicting Niagara Falls and the Great Wall of China. Perhaps Yokoyama was not so much global in his outlook as indiscriminating in his tastes, but that may be an essential quality for an artist.
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Ken Matsuyama: Paintings, Patterns, Pottery, Portraits
6 - 22 April 2018
The Artcomplex Center of Tokyo
(Tokyo)
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This gathering of more than 200 of Matsuyama’s works included many exhibited for the first time. His motifs range from young girls and insects to candle flames, Jomon pottery, planets, and paint itself -- every work guaranteed to tickle or irritate the artistic palate. What captures one’s personal fancy is not necessarily what one would deem artistically praiseworthy, and Matsuyama knows how to exploit that gap, even force us to focus on it. Therein lies his charm.
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Kuniyoshi Yasuo and Shimizu Toshi: Crossroads of Their Lives
28 April - 17 June 2018

Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts
(Tochigi)

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Kuniyoshi (1889-1953) and Shimizu (1887-1945) were both painters who traveled to the United States and studied there. Kuniyoshi joined the anti-fascist movement and, when war broke out with Japan, declared himself an “American artist” and pledged allegiance to his new homeland. Shimizu, on the other hand, returned to Japan, where he produced patriotic “war paintings” like many artists but suffered personal tragedy in the war: his eldest son Ikuo, born in New York, joined the Japanese Navy and was killed in battle two months before the war’s end. Shimizu reacted by painting several portraits of his son, then died of illness only six months later. As this presentation relates in a narrative worthy of a novel, war drove the two artists toward opposite fates.
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