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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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Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts: Basically. Forever. -2018-
24 March - 13 May 2018
Tokyo Photographic Art Museum
(Tokyo)
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The Kiyosato Museum’s annual “Young Portfolio” program, which issues an open call for submissions by photographers age 35 and younger, bears watching. This show paired works by 29 participants in the program with those produced by 66 prominent Japanese and non-Japanese photographers when they were in that age bracket. The result was a bit of a mishmash of eras, nationalities, and styles, but it turned out to offer a stimulating, even thrilling visual experience.
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VvK21: Hideki Kuwajima curation: Family and Photograph
21 - 29 April 2018
Kunst Arzt
(Kyoto)
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The 21st installment of VvK, the gallery’s artist-curated series of group shows, was helmed by photographer Kuwajima and featured his work along with that of four other artists -- Masashi Asada, Kinji Matsumoto, and Masaki Yamamoto -- who typically train their cameras on their families. The phrasing of the title intentionally suggests that the participants aim for something more than mere “family photographs,” a term they believe connotes the generic realm of stereotypical, unconsidered family snapshots.
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Misono Nakao: Red and White Fragments

24 April - 6 May 2018
Gallery Yuragi
(Kyoto)
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In the course of her work as a restorer of artworks and old documents, Nakao also produces fine art herself, employing the materials of Nihonga (Japanese-style painting). Lately she has been creating picture scrolls from mementoes preserved by elderly women, which she painstakingly copies onto paper along with the memories the owners share with her. The works in this show were inspired by a set of Japanese flags owned by one such Kyoto resident. Using the flag motif as a lens through which to view the woman's life, Nakao has produced works imbued with a warmth that would be unattainable from photos or digital scans.
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Makoto Kobayashi: Tokyo Acute-Angle Lots
25 April - 1 May 2018
Ginza Nikon Salon
(Tokyo)
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“Acute-angle lot” may or may not be a term coined by Kobayashi, but it perfectly describes the prevailing motif of this photo series. Tokyo’s peculiar real-estate conditions mean that the metropolis is filled with uncomfortably narrow buildings jammed into pie-slice spaces between forking roads. Indeed, such structures are emblematic of “space” such as it is in Tokyo. Though the exhibition works well enough, the dimensions of Kobayashi’s subjects, and his framing of them, seem just a little too cramped. One wishes for a bit more diversity in point of view and methodology.
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Yoshihiko Ueda: Forest: Impressions and Memories, 1989-2017
19 January - 25 March 2018
Gallery 916
(Tokyo)
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This show -- the last for Gallery 916, whose building is slated for demolition -- brought together several photo series by Ueda depicting forests: temperate Quinault in the American northwest, which he first visited in 1989; a revisitation of the same forest in 2017; subtropical Yakushima south of Kyushu; and the old-growth Kasugayama in Nara. Looking over this three-decade span of work, one gets the impression that Ueda’s photographic sensibility has undergone a significant change. Where his initial portrayals of forests were suffused with a mixture of awe and excitement, the later work seems brighter, more open, and if anything more vibrant.
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Masahiro Usami: Manda-la in Cyprus
21 February - 24 March 2018
Mizuma Art Gallery
(Tokyo)
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The subject of Usami's latest project, which took him a year to film, is the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. Divided into the Greek south and the Turkish north, with a buffer zone in between, Cyprus is sometimes said to resemble a microcosm of contemporary global society. For Usami's "mandala" compositions he arranged local residents in tableaux vivants inspired by the complex, fraught history of the island, and, with the help of interpreters, directed them in performances which he photographed. Though political in theme, the images are also masterpieces of visual entertainment.
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Daido Moriyama: Ango
21 March - 22 April 2018
Poetic Scape
(Tokyo)
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Satoshi Machiguchi has designed and published five volumes in his series of books combining works of modern/contemporary Japanese literature with pictures by Japanese photographers. The latest release, a collaboration between photographer Moriyama and Ango Sakaguchi, author of the story “In the Cherry Forest, Beneath Flowers in Full Bloom,” is appropriate both in its seasonal timing and because cherries are a familiar motif for Moriyama. His dark, monochrome portrayals of the blossoms, on display in this show, have an air of profundity, but not gloom.
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Mayuko Sato: Living Woman

24 - 25 March 2018

Vacant
(Tokyo)
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In her previous solo outing, Sato's film-camera snapshots of female friends seemed to offhandedly capture the despairing mood of the times. Now working with a larger camera, she has honed the precision of her photography, evincing an ambition to expand her expressive palette. By framing her subjects -- actresses, illustrators and other professionals -- as "living women" she has also raised the bar by defining the series as a documentary of the world we live in. For the artist, however, the technical refinement of her work may be something of a double-edged sword.
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Sujin Memory Bank Project #02: BANK - Connecting with the Film “Higashikujo”

1 March - 22 April 2018

The Bank of Yanagihara Memorial Museum
(Kyoto)
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The Bank of Yanagihara was founded in 1899 by residents of Kyoto's impoverished Sujin district, just east of Kyoto station. Today the building serves as a museum that stores and exhibits materials associated with the history, culture, and life of the district. Released in 1969, Higashikujo was a privately produced film exposing the poverty and discrimination that afflicted the same neighborhood. The light the film sheds on the daily lives of people of that era reveals not only the differences between then and now, but also the way that meaning itself can deteriorate with the passage of time.
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Koganecho Artist in Residence 2017 Exhibition
3 - 18 March 2018
Koganecho Area Management Center
(Kanagawa)
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I had given up on finding anything memorable in this show when, at the very end, I came upon something that knocked me out: a "lifestyle" piece by MATSUDAHOME, consisting of the married artist duo of Rumi and Naoki Matsuda. The installation consisted of a 50-centimeter bundle of hair and a row of 2-liter bottles containing a murky gray liquid. The hair is Rumi’s own, gathered up in her room, while the liquid is the 12.5 liters of sweat collected in a year’s worth of jogging by Naoki as part of his diet regimen. About as minimalist as it gets, but far better than works that leave no impression at all.
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