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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.

2 December 2013
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Ueda Shoji 100th Anniversary
12 October - 5 January 2014
Tokyo Station Gallery
(Tokyo)
A photographer who proudly declared himself an "amateur" and did most of his work in his home district of San'in, on the Sea of Japan, Shoji Ueda (1913-2000) is best known for his idiosyncratically staged shots of subjects (usually family members) posing amid the sand dunes of Tottori. Coming at a time when Ueda, already a beloved icon at home, is finally gaining international recognition, this retrospective celebrates the centenary of his birth.

Starting from Katagami, Part 3: Dashi, the Katagami of Cooking

11 October - 25 December 2013
Atelier Muji
(Tokyo)
Katagami usually refers to the stenciled patterns used in traditional Japanese clothing design, but in this series of exhibitions the term is adopted to embrace the entire gamut of knowledge and techniques passed down from generation to generation of artisans. In the current show the focus is on food preparation, and specifically the flavorings (dashi) used in soup stocks, stews, and the like. These savory ingredients are, the curators posit, the fundamental katagami of Japanese cuisine.
Leonard Foujita
1 September 2013 - 31 January 2014
Sanno Art Museum
(Osaka)
Foujita exhibitions seem ubiquitous these days; this one offers 26 works, roughly divided in half between the painter's prewar and postwar output. His 1943 Scene with a Church recalls the Parisian cityscapes of Maurice Utrillo. It is intriguing to ponder the fact that 1943 is also the year he painted his tour-de-force of war art, Final Fighting on Attu. One wonders how to reconcile that terrifying (and politically somewhat notorious) work with this tranquil image of a chapel in France, seemingly painted on the sly amid the hysteria of wartime.
Yasumasa Morimura: Rembrandt Room Revisited

12 October - 23 December 2013

Hara Museum of Contemporary Art
(Tokyo)
This reprise of Morimura's 1994 show augments 23 works based on Rembrandt oils and etchings with several more recent pieces, among them Los Nuevos Caprichos (2005), inspired by Francisco Goya's Los Caprichos. But the piece de resistance is Morimura's spine-chilling performance as Rembrandt, as if possessed by the Dutch master's ghost.
Shibusawa Keizo Memorial Project: Attic Museum

19 September - 3 December 2013

National Museum of Ethnology
(Osaka)
Keizo Shibusawa (1896-1963) served as governor of the Bank of Japan during World War II, and subsequently as Japan's first finance minister to be appointed from the private sector. But he was also a dedicated folklorist; his personal collection, which he dubbed the Attic Museum, of some 28,000 toys and mingu ("folk implements") formed the nucleus of the National Museum of Ethnology's holdings. This show introduces a selection of Shibusawa's trove.
Masters of the Mingei Movement: Shoji Hamada, Kanjiro Kawai, Keisuke Serizawa

7 September - 15 December 2013

The Japan Folk Crafts Museum, Osaka
(Osaka)
Next to Mingei folk-art movement founder Soetsu Yanagi (1889-1961), three of the greatest forces in the movement were the potters Shoji Hamada (1894-1978) and Kanjiro Kawai (1890-1966), and the textile artist Keisuke Serizawa (1895-1984). What with the inevitable thematic constraints of a show at the Folk Crafts Museum, nothing on display comes as a surprise, but it is nonetheless a profound experience to be able to view the works of all three masters at one sitting.
Your Portrait: A Tetsumi Kudo Retrospective

2 November - 19 January 2013

National Museum of Art, Osaka
(Osaka)
This grand retrospective of Kudo's (1935-90) oeuvre, the first since 1994, features some 200 works, including a number on view in Japan for the first time. His legendary installation Distribution Map of Impotence and the Appearance of Protective Domes at the Points of Saturation, courtesy of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, has not been seen here since the 14th Yomiuri Independent Exhibition in 1962.
Studying Asia: From the Educational Perspective of Modern-Era Gakushuin

5 October - 21 December 2013

Gakushuin University Museum of History
(Tokyo)
Part of a Journeys in Asian Studies program held jointly with the Toyo Bunko and Eisei Bunko museums, this exhibition showcases the university's art collection in the context of the emergence of Asian Studies as an academic discipline from the Meiji through the early Showa eras, and particularly the growth of interest in East Asian art and its influence on Japanese art.
Toys of "Occupied Japan"
17 August - 1 December 2013
Suginami Historical Museum
(Tokyo)
"Made in Occupied Japan" was the label affixed to the vast quantities of toys exported by Japan -- almost exclusively to the U.S. -- during the postwar years of the American occupation. Culled from the extensive collection of illustrator Fumitaka Takayama, this exhibition also features toys from as far back as the Meiji era and into the late 1950s and early 1960s. One of its most intriguing aspects is the frequency with which very Japanese-y characters appear among products manufactured ostensibly for consumption by American kids.
Takeuchi Seiho
3 September - 14 October 2013
The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
(Tokyo)
Per the art-world cliche "Taikan in the east, Seiho in the west," seminal Nihonga painter Seiho Takeuchi (1864-1942), who was based in Kyoto, is habitually paired in alleged rivalry with his Tokyo contemporary, Taikan Yokoyama (1868-1958). But as this show demonstrates, Seiho was clearly the superior artist. Truth to tell, Seiho was a bit of a showoff, and his emphasis on technique for its own sake can get a tad tiresome. Though he depicted lions, skeletons, women, and Mt. Fuji with equal elan, one of his most astonishing works -- a masterpiece by any estimation -- is Roma no Zu (Historic Spot of Rome), a landscape of ancient European ruins rendered in traditional sumi ink on a multipanel byobu screen.
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