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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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LIVE! KOUBA: Tsubame-Sanjo Factory Festival
1 - 31 October 2020
Online
(Niigata)
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Since 2013 the twin cities of Sanjo and Tsubame in Niigata Prefecture have hosted an annual "factory (kouba) festival" showcasing the region's metalworking industry. Long a major producer of Western tableware, Tsubame-Sanjo today makes 90 percent of Japan's stainless-steel cutlery. In normal years, several dozen factories open themselves to the public for several days. This year, local makers of various products made their work floors accessible through videos and live streaming for the entire month of October. The online presentation offered a serendipitous opportunity for viewers from outside the area to see this precision manufacturing work close-up.
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JAGDA New Designer Awards Exhibition 2020
8 September - 15 October 2020
Creation Gallery G8
(Tokyo)
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Annually presented since 1983 by the Japan Graphic Designers Association to promising under-40 designers, the awards for this year went to Shun Sasaki, Seri Tanaka, and Tomomi Nishikawa. The work of Sasaki and Nishikawa in particular pricks the sensibilities; their illustrative styles, while simple, exude an intensely idiosyncratic energy.
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Hiroyuki Takenouchi: Distance & Depth

26 August - 10 October 2020
PGI
(Tokyo)
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Photographer Takenouchi describes the genesis of this series as a request from a friend to make an album of pictures for a lover who would soon be moving far away. The images here are of landscapes, people, insects, birds, pebbles -- an assemblage of familiar objects that conspire together to create an intimate space. There is always an emotional "distance" between photographer and subject, and Takenouchi is adept at measuring and manipulating it to create works that are soft-edged yet impeccably precise.
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Fuminao Suenaga: Picture Frame
29 August - 27 September 2020
Maki Fine Arts 
(Tokyo)
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The nine "pictures" on display consist of panels covered in cotton cloth with ornamental frames painted on the periphery. The picture plane within each frame is painted a single flat color, the effect being that of a frame from which the painting has been removed. The "frames" themselves are replicas of those seen around masterpieces in art museums in Japan and abroad. Suenaga's works can thus be viewed either as pictureless frames, or as framed monochrome paintings.
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Mesta bez nas (A town people disappeared from)
11 September - 9 October 2020
Czech Centre Tokyo
(Tokyo)
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This was a sequel of sorts to Tokyo 2020 - Corona Spring, an exhibition held this past June at Gallery Fugensha featuring work by 20 photographers who were among the first to capture the ambience of Tokyo during the coronavirus-triggered state of emergency. Here photos by 11 participants in the earlier show were joined by 10 similarly-themed monochrome prints by the Czech photographer Karel Cudlin. Whereas there was a solemn heft to the people and townscapes in the Czech images, the Japanese works seemed somehow less substantial. The contrast itself was fascinating, though.
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Tetsuro Shimizu: Tokyo Crows
1 - 27 September 2020
JCII Photo Salon
(Tokyo)
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This series marked the professional debut of documentary photographer Shimizu. Upon graduation from the Nippon Photography Institute in 1995, he began snapping monochrome shots of the jungle crows that gather in Shibuya, Ginza, and other downtown Tokyo neighborhoods. Shimizu avers that he admires the birds for their "ideal lifestyle" in the metropolis, where they have proven adept at roosting, finding food, and raising families. His approach to his subjects is unlike that of typical wildlife photographers, nor does he treat his work as a vehicle for self-expression. In a word, he is a journalist.
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Jumonji Bishin: Fujisaki

28 August - 24 October 2020

Super Labo Store Tokyo
(Tokyo)
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This show dovetailed with the publication of Fujisaki, a collection of photos Jumonji (b. 1947) took in 1967 and '68, before his debut as a professional photographer. He named it, he says, for a precocious high-school friend who wore tight jeans and a leather jacket, rode around on a motorcycle, and read Sartre and Heidegger. Jumonji's forte is his willingness to take conceptuality to an extreme in his relentless pursuit of answers to the question, "What is photography?"
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Insertion into City Life: Tadashi Kawamata
11 September - 11 October 2020
BankART Station, BankART Temporary, Bashamichi Station
(Yokohama)
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Born in Hokkaido but now based in Paris, Kawamata was director of the 2nd Yokohama Triennale in 2005. Since his debut 40 years ago he has made a name for himself with installations in which he covers entire buildings with scraps of lumber. However, his more recent work uses a variety of materials, among them old newspapers, chairs, window frames, and cargo pallets. For the BankART Life VI exhibition, he covered the ceiling and faテァade of BankART Temporary, a former bank in downtown Yokohama, with metal sheeting of the sort used for construction-site fences.
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Keizo Motoda: Good Morning From Nagisa Bridge
10 September - 4 October 2020
Communication Gallery Fugensha
(Tokyo)
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In July 2017 Motoda inserted color positive film in a compact camera and began snapping shots in the neighborhood around his home in Zushi, a seaside town in Kanagawa Prefecture. As he continued his daily perambulations, his choice of subjects expanded to include his family, the photography school where he teaches, scenery encountered on trips, and even other photographers of his acquaintance. Since the compact camera puts an automatic time stamp on every shot, the result is a veritable diary in photographs.
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Yang Seungwoo: The Last Cabaret

28 August - 19 September 2020

Zen Foto Gallery
(Tokyo)
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The titular series might be termed a new frontier for the Korea-born photographer. Though already known for his black-and-white snapshots of hardcore denizens of Tokyo's gritty Kabukicho district, Yang picked a surprising venue for his latest project: the venerable cabaret Rotary, a Kabukicho fixture since the 1960s. Tokyo's "last grand cabaret" shut its doors earlier this year, just before the corona outbreak. Yang was fortunate to be granted free access to the club a year earlier, and he seized the opportunity to focus his lens on the people who worked and played there -- notably the club's number-one hostess, still reigning at age 72.
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