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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 September 2020
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New Photographic Objects: The Materiality of Photo and Video
2 June - 6 September 2020
The Museum of Modern Art, Saitama
(Saitama)
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The work here is reminiscent of the photography 'zine provoke, launched in 1968 and famed for its contributors' grainy, blurry style, a reflection of the "season of politics" that was the late sixties. The photo and video artists featured in this show -- Teppei Sako, Hiroshi Takizawa, Takashi Makino, Daisuke Yokota, and the duo Nerhol (Yoshihisa Tanaka and Ryuta Iida) -- respond to the turbulent 2020s with similar strategies in an attempt to nail down the endlessly morphing, unraveling reality of the world as we know it today.
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Western-style Painting in the Edo Period
9 June - 6 September 2020
The Japan Folk Crafts Museum
(Tokyo)
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Why would the Folk Crafts Museum exhibit Western-style paintings? Because the museum's founder and mingei movement leader Soetsu Yanagi collected them. In his view, the Western-style art produced during the Edo period (1603-1867), before the end of the Shogunate, was "craft painting," a form of folk art. Granted, these depictions of foreign objects and landscapes by mostly anonymous artists are not artistically refined. Rather, they seem like the earnest efforts of novices trying out the techniques of perspective and shadowing they learned from Western prints sold in the port city of Nagasaki.
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Japan's First Wild Bird Photographer
1 July - 30 September 2020
Photo History Museum
(Tokyo)
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Subtitled "100 Years Ago Kenji Shimomura Captured an Image of a Kingfisher," this retrospective examines the career of Shimomura (1903-67), a pioneer in avian photography. The 50-plus images include many vintage prints that epitomize the soft monochrome beauty of Japanese photography in the early 20th century. Shimomura's postwar photographs are more scientific and precise as studies of wild birds in their natural habitats, but his prewar work is a sublime fusion of documentation and art.
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Banksy Exhibition: Genius or Vandal?
15 March - 27 September 2020
Asobuild
(Kanagawa)
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This provocatively titled exhibition of works by the enigmatic UK artist has been on the road since 2018, attracting some one million viewers (so the site claims) in places like Moscow, Madrid, and Hong Kong before arriving in Japan. The venue, Asobuild, is an entertainment complex opened last year in the renovated Yokohama Central Post Office Annex adjacent to Yokohama Station. It seems a bit ironic that the work of an avowedly anti-capitalist artist has ended up lining the walls of this quintessentially capitalistic facility. Then again, Banksy's anti-establishment stance would be an equally odd fit in a typical public museum.
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Yokohama Triennale 2020: Afterglow

17 July - 11 October 2020
Yokohama Museum of Art + PLOT 48
(Kanagawa)
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The artistic co-directors of this year's Triennale are the three members of the India-based Raqs Media Collective. They describe the thematic concept of "afterglow" as "a luminous interval, a glowing anticipation, a lambent flow, a charged current of energy between thickets of presence and becoming." They further cite five keywords to their curation of the show: autodidact, luminosity, friendship, care, and toxicity. The exhibits are diverse and visually stimulating -- bright, colorful, busy.
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come to bauhaus! -- the basis of education in art and design
17 July - 6 September 2020
Tokyo Station Gallery
(Tokyo)
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Having made the rounds in Japan, this commemoration of the centenary (in 2019) of the legendary German school is enjoying its finale at Tokyo Station. As the title indicates, the focus is on the pioneering role of the Bauhaus in art and design education. Students spent their first half-year (later a full year) at the school in a preliminary course taught by some of the world's most eminent artists. An entire section of the show introduces the curricula of seven of those instructors, plus works produced by their pupils. (See this month's Focus for a detailed review.)
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The 22nd Yusaku Kamekura Design Award Exhibition: Atsuki Kikuchi 2020
20 July - 2 September 2020
Creation Gallery G8
(Tokyo)
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Each year the Japan Graphic Designers Association (JAGDA) bestows the titular award on what it deems the best of the works submitted to its yearbook, Graphic Design in Japan. This year's award went to Atsuki Kikuchi for his design of the exhibition catalogue Primitive and Graceful: The Ceramic Artistry of Shoji Kamoda for Musée Tomo. The prizewinning tome has the dignified air of a book from a previous age, with a tactile presence that exudes the rough-hewn warmth of collage or cut-out art.
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HarapekoFullmoon: Correspondence Tour
23 July 2020 - 22 July 2021
HarapekoFullmoon
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The art project HarapekoFullmoon's "Correspondence Tour" is a one-year undertaking during which 50 postcards will be mailed out to participants. Each postcard will have a photograph on one side, and text and a QR code for accessing the tour's blog on the other. The cards will go out at intervals between 23 July 2020 and 22 July 2021. Since the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics is currently rescheduled for 23 July 2021, the tour coincides perfectly with the "gap year" created by postponement of the games.
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Artplaza Arata Isozaki Panel Exhibition

1 June - 30 August 2020

Art Plaza
(Oita)
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Oita-born architect Isozaki (b. 1931) designed many buildings in his hometown. One of the earliest was the Oita Prefectural Library, now rebranded as the multipurpose Art Plaza. Focusing on Isozaki's public architecture, this exhibition brought together over two dozen of his celebrated wooden models. Since wood is so much more durable than typical model materials like foam or styrene board, these constructions may well last longer than some examples of contemporary Japanese architecture that appear unlikely to survive for more than a century.
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Galleries Without Artworks

4 July - 27 August 2020

Setagaya Art Museum
(Tokyo)
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Whether as a last-ditch measure to fill a corona-induced hole in the museum's schedule, or simply as a gesture of defiance, this show had the audacity to highlight the exhibition space itself, sans exhibits. In normal circumstances temporary partitions cover the windows and floor, so this reviewer didn't even realize there were windows here -- and big windows, with grand views of the park outside, at that. However, the transformation was also a reminder of an obvious truism: art museums, or at least their galleries, shouldn't upstage the works on the wall. (See Focus in the August 2020 issue for a detailed review.)
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>> Back Issues
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