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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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Cosmic Garden by Sandra Cinto
11 February - 10 May 2020
Ginza Maison Hermès
(Tokyo)
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One is first overwhelmed by the world of blue that covers the walls. Across it float white line drawings that evoke clouds, mist, sea-foam. Moving farther back into an even deeper blue space, one is surrounded by countless flickering stars. Cinto's imagined scenario is the worlds of the sky, the sea, and outer space. In the midst of fears of a worldwide pandemic, though, what it evoked for this reviewer was the ubiquity of the new virus. Cinto's stated concern is with the times when we humans confront our emotions as we deal with circumstances of catastrophe and chaos. Her work could not be more timely.
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Osaka Expo Kaleidoscope: Viewing the Astrorama
15 January - 19 April 2020
Takashimaya Shiryokan Tokyo
(Tokyo)
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The venerable department store offers a look back at the Midorikan (Green Pavilion) that it co-sponsored at Osaka's Expo '70, half a century ago. The building itself was an impressive, bright-green geodesic dome, but the real highlight here is the exhibit about the Astrorama, a planetarium-like video presentation visitors could view inside. Written by Shuntaro Tanikawa with music by Toshiro Mayuzumi, the avant-garde work featured a gargantuan image of Butoh dancer Tatsumi Hijikata descending over the heads of the audience.
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René Lalique: Modernity and Elegance

1 February - 7 April 2020
Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum
(Tokyo)
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Lalique first made a splash with the glass fountain he designed for the Paris World Exposition in 1925, and reigned thereafter as the preeminent glass artist of the Art Deco era. Technological innovation always gives birth to new industries, and glass lent itself to mass production thanks to its malleability, whether blown or press-molded. But what drew Lalique to glass as an alternative to precious stones was its gleaming transparency.
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Barcelona: The City of Artistic Miracles
8 February - 5 April 2020
Tokyo Station Gallery
(Tokyo)
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Expecting the show would focus on Gaudi, as many that reference Barcelona do, I was happy to find that it is more about the city that gave birth to him. Topics range from the dramatic modernization and expansion of the city on a grid plan in the late 19th century, to the activities of architects during that period like Lluis Domenech I Montaner and Josep Jujol, who shared Gaudi's interest in ornamentation. Still, the most interesting section is about Barcelona's art milieu.
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Two Visual Perspectives of 500 Arhats: Tadashi Hayahiko x Ryo Owada
5 February - 29 April 2020
Ten'on-zan Gohyaku Rakanji
(Tokyo)
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Ten'on-zan Gohyaku Rakanji temple in Meguro, Tokyo, is famed for its rows of wooden images of the enlightened disciples of the Buddha known as the 500 Arhats. The sculptor Genkei Shoun began carving them in 1691, completing over 500, of which 305 remain today. Entranced by the rich diversity of the facial expressions on these statues, Tadashi Hayahiko photographed all of them in 1982, bringing to bear his expertise in lighting and composition as a portrait photographer. In this exhibition at the temple, Hayahiko's works are paired with a more recent series shot by Ryo Owada in 2018.
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Tomorrow is Today: Farming the Possible Fields
25 February - 28 March 2020
Creation Gallery G8
(Tokyo)
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Showcasing the work of the Osaka-based design studio UMA / design farm, this exhibition was a revelation. Their work ranges from logos, posters, packaging, product planning, and book design to signage, pictograms, and the design and development of various kinds of public facilities. Unlike conventional art directors, their motto is "thinking together, making together" with their clients. Particularly impressive is the way the studio keeps one foot firmly in the graphic design field while it steps out into the arena of social design.
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Ozaki Shinpey: 1942020
18 February - 1 March 2020
Gallery Turnaround
(Miyagi)
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The show title is a conflation of 1942, the year of the cancelled Esposizione Universale Roma, and 2020, the year of the (now postponed) Tokyo Olympics. Of special interest is Ozaki's recurring motif, the Italian rationalist architecture promoted by Mussolini's fascist regime. Here the Palazzo della Civilta Italiana (now headquarters of the fashion house Fendi) is transformed into a love hotel. By placing rationalist architecture, an amalgam of modernism and classicism, in an entirely different context, Ozaki turns it into kitsch of the sort one might see by a suburban highway in Japan.
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All My Sons
7 - 15 February 2020
Haiyuza Theatre
The Pillars of Society
21 - 26 February 2020
The National Theatre Tokyo
(Tokyo)
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Tomoya Kiriyama directed a Haiyuza production of Arthur Miller's famous 1946 play about business corruption and misplaced blame. Around the same time, Keiko Miyata directed a National Theatre production of Ibsen's similarly themed work from 1877, which takes place in a small Norwegian harbor town. Both works have aged all too well, resonating with contemporary events that pit the forces of social hypocrisy against the ideals of truth and freedom.
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Takuya Murakawa: Pamilya

22 - 24 February 2020

Papio Be Room
(Fukuoka)
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Director Murakawa is known for incorporating documentary and fieldwork methodology into his plays, which sharply illuminate and deconstruct the theatrical process. Pamilya ("family" in Tagalog) is part of a series that includes zeitgeber and Independent Living in which Murakawa selects a volunteer from the audience to play the part of a care receiver who is tended to on stage by a professional caregiver (one from the Philippines in this case, reflecting a growing trend in Japan). In this production Murakawa adds a number of elements to the scenario that expand its scope beyond the earlier works.
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Karasuma Stroke Rock: Landscape of Mahoroba 2020

16 - 23 February 2020

Tokyo Metropolitan Theatre
(Tokyo)
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Having experienced "paradise in hell" through the unselfish behavior of strangers after the 2011 tsunami, protagonist Fukumura seeks to rediscover this ideal in his wanderings about Japan (Mahoroba is an ancient Japanese name for a Utopia-like land). The people he meets cause him to relive his past, sometimes appearing as reincarnations or reflections of his former self. His final words as he stands on a mountaintop -- "I am here, the mountain is here" -- crystallize his Everyman-like fate as a human being who must endure karma and his own weakness, yet somehow live on.
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