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Picks is a monthly sampling of Japan's art scene, offering short reviews of exhibitions at museums and galleries in recent weeks, with an emphasis on contemporary art by young artists.

1 July 2010
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The Samurai & I: Early Portrait Photographs
15 May - 25 July 2010
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography
(Tokyo)
Every year the museum puts on a special exhibition of photos from its own collection. This year's show is on the theme of portraiture, specifically from the early days of photography. "The Samurai & I" is divided into several parts -- Japan, The West, Intersections -- starting with daguerrotypes from the end of the Shogunate era and culminating in Kazumasa Ogawa's 1898 photo album "Modern Beauties from Kyoto and Osaka."

Seiichi Furuya: Mémoires

15 May - 19 July 2010
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography
(Tokyo)
Furuya's "Mテゥmoires" photo series evokes sorrow on two levels. Its theme revolves around the photographer's memories of his wife Christine, who committed suicide in East Berlin in 1985, thus imposing a powerful bias on the images. And, because it is impossible for us to view these images without consciously processing the information that they are about "the photographer's wife who killed herself," our judgment is inevitably contaminated by that same sorrow.
Kikuji Kawada: World's End 2008-2010
13 May - 10 July 2010
Photo Gallery International
(Tokyo)
Born in 1933, veteran photographer Kawada says he still swims several times a week. From late 2008 to March 2010 he assigned himself the task of taking a picture every day, and this show is the result. Though his recent works reflect the use of the digital camera's multi-shot function and computer manipulation of image and color, he employs these technologies to exaggerate the ambiguity of shadows or to amplify a mood of immoderation.
Jakuchu Ito: Another World

22 May - 27 June 2010

Chiba City Museum of Art
(Chiba)
Last year it was "Jakuchu Wonderland" at the Miho Museum; this year we have "Another World" in Chiba. Every season seems to bring a new show of paintings by the Edo-era superstar. This one also features works of the Obaku sect of Zen Buddhism, which Jakuchu (1716-1800) practiced, and by Chinese painter Shen Quan (ca.1682-1760), who lived in Japan for some years and was a major influence. It's edifying to learn that Jakuchu did not just pop up out of nowhere, but had bona fide artistic roots.
Riusuke Fukahori: Goldfish Bath 2010

15 May - 13 June 2010

Tokyo Kokusai Forum Exposition Space
(Tokyo)
Goldfish swimming in wooden boxes, in barrels -- but they aren't moving. Are they frozen? Turns out the fish are paintings on resin. Fukahori has made goldfish his "lifelong motif," but though his work has turned up frequently at art fairs in recent years, this was the first solo exhibition seen by this reviewer. His fish come in all sizes and shapes; seemingly the product of a few fluid brushstrokes, they stimulate an urge to paint in the beholder.
Maiko Haruki: "possibility in portraiture"

14 May - 12 June 2010

Taro Nasu
(Tokyo)
Haruki's photographs are dominated almost entirely by fields of black or white. Until recently these images of all-permeating darkness or light have been pure landscapes. Since 2008, however, human figures have made their appearance, and in her current show Haruki dips her toes in portraiture. The artist reveals a palpable determination to slowly but surely expand her range of expression in new directions.
Masako Tomiya: Michi Kusa

11 May - 12 June 2010

Zeit-Foto Salon
(Tokyo)
Tomiya's photos of her home turf, the far northern region of Aomori, are shot with a 6x6 camera in monochrome, lending an archaic mood to much of the work. But her images of birds, dogs, goats and other animals have a wondrous force that draws the viewer inexorably into another world. Her pictures of horses are particularly powerful.

Kazumi Yoshimine: Ground

24 May - 5 June 2010

ASK? art space kimura
(Tokyo)
Landscapes that look like abstract paintings, or vice-versa . . . Most of Yoshimine's photo works seem to consist of fields of undifferentiated gray in which something resembling a seashore, or perhaps a tree or two, can be dimly discerned. Yet the same exhibition also features a number of pieces that consist of vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines etched across a background consisting of her mother's kimono. Why is it that such unfriendly images are so captivating?

Nobuyoshi Araki: Photographs of A Seventy Year Old

8 May - 5 June 2010

Taka Ishii Gallery
(Tokyo)
In what has become a tradition, Taka Ishii commemorates Araki's birthday with a retrospective. This year, his 70th, offers a prime opportunity to see what the bad-boy photographer is up to these days. The show starts with some strong monochrome work from his recent sessions with the popular performer Lady Gaga, then works back through well-known series like Bondage, Kaori, Eros of Married Women, Kurumado, Sky . . . Perhaps because they are so familiar, these earlier images now seem poignant in their desolation.
Kengo Nakamura: "Without me"
11 May - 5 June 2010
Megumi Ogita Gallery
(Tokyo)
Nakamura's new works are extensions on a continuum he established with past series: line drawings that string together sections of Osamu Tezuka's manga images, abstract paintings (?) reminiscent of Piet Mondrian that consist of color-coded floor plans, and so on. That he has chosen to use Nihonga pigments and techniques is less startling than one might expect; indeed, it seems like a perfectly natural step for this artist.
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