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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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image image 15 December 2020
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Sagacho Exhibit Space 1983-2000
12 September - 13 December 2020
The Museum of Modern Art, Gunma
(Gunma)
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Established museums and galleries have never supported the existence of alternative spaces in Japan, yet one in particular, the Sagacho Exhibit Space, survived on its own for 17 years, thanks largely to the vision and drive of its director, Kazuko Koike. In this unique venue -- a converted auditorium in a former rice warehouse -- she nurtured a remarkable roster of emerging artists who went on to fame at home and abroad. This homage to Sagacho (in a museum no less) showcased 41 works by 25 of those artists, as well as a set of photos commemorating every one of the 106 exhibitions held in the space -- in effect providing, as this show's subtitle puts it, a "Fixed-Point Observation of Contemporary Art" in Japan. (For a detailed review see the 1 December issue's Here and There.)
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Ruriko Taguchi Photo Exhibition: CUT OFF
29 October - 15 November 2020
Communication Gallery Fugensha
(Tokyo)
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Photographer Taguchi says it suddenly occurred to her to have a hairdresser come to her home and cut off her long hair while she was naked, and to record the process. The resulting series perfectly embodies the blend of spontaneity and chance giving rise to unexpected vignettes that is a distinctive attribute of photographic expression. Taguchi writes, "When we cut our nails or hair, in that instant what had been part of us becomes something separate and unwanted, transforming into waste or filth." When you think about it, this is indeed a strange phenomenon. The photos successfully convey the peculiar energy of hair as a foreign substance.
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Art Brut 2020 Special Exhibition

5 September - 6 December 2020
Tokyo Shibuya Koen-dori Gallery
(Tokyo)
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Many of the 18 "outsider" artists in this show are regulars at Art Brut exhibitions around Japan. Still, the works of Hidenori Motooka, Marie Suzuki, and Shinichi Sawada never cease to astonish. Motooka's Trains is particularly awe-inducing. His m.o. is simply to draw row upon row of electric trains, showing them only from the front and squeezing them together in an arrangement that gives new meaning to the idea of "packed trains." He does this, he explains, because he "wants to draw as many trains as possible." These are works that fly at an altitude far above our earthbound common sense. All we ordinary mortals can do is look up and marvel. (For a detailed review see the 1 December issue's Focus.)
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Yoshinori Marui: Apparition
15 October - 5 December 2020
PGI
(Tokyo)
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Photographer Marui takes his interpretation of the word "apparition" from the philosopher Theodor Adorno, who defines it as a "heavenly vision." As Marui describes it, "A star is born, and suddenly its light replaces utter darkness" -- a phenomenon to which he likens the photographic process. Everyday objects suddenly appear in front of the camera, then just as quickly move out of frame to vanish forever. Just as we see chance arrangements of stars in the sky -- some of them long dead -- as constellations, we find ourselves seeking the invisible threads that link the seemingly unrelated images in this show.
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The Japan Fine Arts Exhibition
30 October - 22 November 2020
The National Art Center, Tokyo
(Tokyo)
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This reviewer has been going to the venerable show commonly known as Nitten since 2000, and very little about it has changed from year to year. The Western-style paintings seem darker than the Japanese-style Nihonga, perhaps due to a predominance of portraits in which the subjects are static and expressionless. They exude no vitality, just stagnation and an odor of death -- no wonder they feel dark. Strangely, too, in a year that has begun and ended with the coronavirus, there are hardly any depictions of masks. The contrast with those in attendance, who were uniformly masked, was, in a word, stark. But that's Nitten in a nutshell: aloof from and unmoved by the world outside.
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Kento Kiyono: Jigokudani Snow Monkey
23 October - 3 November 2020
Nikon Salon
(Tokyo)
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Jigokudani Monkey Park, in the northern Nagano Prefecture town of Yamanouchi, is a celebrated go-to spot for animal photography buffs who love to snap the wild monkeys as they bathe in the hot springs or engage in snowball fights. Kiyono's camerawork, while resolutely orthodox, at the same time appears to be seeking to break new ground in the snow-monkey snapshot genre. His dedication to the classic monochrome print yields painterly images that might properly be called portraits, so eloquently do they bring out the individuality of his simian subjects.
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Toshiki Nakanishi: Kamuy

19 September - 31 October 2020

Canon Gallery S
(Tokyo)
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In Japan, past generations of landscape photographers have tended to adhere to the traditional "flower-bird-wind-moon" aesthetic that treats Nature as a delicate, bonsai-like thing. In these images shot in the primeval forests of Hokkaido, Nakanishi works on a different scale altogether. Here he juxtaposes the natural patterns formed by tree bark, lichens, and fungi with decorative patterns created by the indigenous Ainu and the ancient Jomon people. Since time immemorial, human beings have incorporated Nature's designs into their pottery, weavings, and ornamentation, and Nakanishi does a brilliant job of exploring that relationship through his photographs.
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Naoya Yoshikawa: Family Album
12 - 24 October 2020
Gallery Nayuta
(Tokyo)
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In the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 and his own mother's death, Yoshikawa began duplicating photos from his family's albums in a quest for "a narrative of my self." However, the works in the titular series are not mere copies. Yoshikawa skews the images, cuts out all but one part, or blurs some areas while leaving the rest in focus. In this manner he reconstructs family memories into a new narrative, in what is a superb experiment in the critical reinterpretation of photography.
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Project #16: Vividor
24 October - 15 November 2020
Azumatei Project
(Kanagawa)
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The 16th in a series of projects produced by artist Jun Azumatei, this one consisted of an omnibus of videos in a small room on the second floor of an old building on the edge of Yokohama's Isezaki Mall. The entire sequence ran to 2 hours 10 minutes, but each of the 29 works was less than 5 minutes long. Leading off was Eross Istvan's Dialogue, in which a white man and a black man take turns throwing white flour at each other, but few of the other pieces were so obviously metaphorical. Among the other artists: Mitsuhiro Kurashige, Koji Tsujigo, Daniel Goettin, and Super-Concrete (Azumatei's performance duo with Kota Saito).
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Koganecho Bazaar 2020: Artists and Communities

6 - 29 November 2020

Hinode Studio
(Kanagawa)
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Nine artists from six countries were selected from open-call submissions for this year's iteration of the annual show in Yokohama's Koganecho district. Due to the pandemic, overseas artists had to participate remotely. One standout was a video presentation of Indonesian artist Alfiah Rahdini's installation Sailormoonah. The silver-colored statue, temporarily erected in a city park, appears to be a character from the hit anime Sailor Moon, but wears a long skirt and a hijab, evidently a Muslim version for Indonesian consumption. In the video, passersby are asked to share their impressions of the statue.
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