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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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traNslatioNs - Understanding Misunderstanding
16 October 2020 - 13 June 2021
21-21 Design Sight
(Tokyo)
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One can imagine that the theme of this show was originally developed with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in mind. With thousands of foreigners expected to descend on Japan last year, what could be more appropriate than a look at "translation"? To be sure, this presentation is not just about converting one language to another. Rather, it purports to examine communication of all kinds -- using the eyes, the ears, and the body, and extending to communication via cuisine, or between present, past, and future, or between people, animals, and even microbes.
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Listening: Resonant Worlds
12 December 2020 - 21 March 2021
Arts Maebashi
(Gunma)
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An introduction, via works by practitioners in a variety of media, to "practices of connecting to the world through the act of listening." The premise of the show is that we are capable of hearing all kinds of "existences" that share this planet with us, not just words or music. Conscious listening makes us aware of how interdependent we are with one another and allows us to "know ourselves in the second person, not just the first person," linking us to realms of endeavor ranging from politics to social welfare to the environment.
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Ken + Julia Yonetani: That is why I want to be saved
11 November 2020 - 7 March 2021
Kadokawa Culture Museum
(Saitama)
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The output of this artist duo reflects their interests in science and myth, dovetailing with the new museum's stated aim of serving as a "hub of creation of new worlds by reviving the human power of imagination." Human beings have always looked for saviors to rescue us from the myriad fears we live with -- which today include such daunting concerns as environmental destruction, climate change, and a pandemic. This exhibition compels us to scrutinize the desire to be saved as we experience it in our present age of anxiety.
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Bubbles/Debris: Art of the Heisei Period 1989-2019
23 January - 11 April 2021
Kyoto City Kyocera Museum of Art
(Kyoto)
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Curated by art critic Noi Sawaragi, this exhibition in the museum's new Higashiyama Cube annex looks back on the art of the recently-ended Heisei era, with a special focus on collective undertakings by selected artists and art units. As suggested by his keywords "bubbles" and "debris," Sawaragi views the Heisei as a period beset by economic stagnation coupled with repeated disasters, and examines how artists responded to those fraught circumstances.
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Settai Komura: Artist of the Printed Page

22 January - 23 March 2021
Hibiya Library & Museum
(Tokyo)
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Settai Komura (1887-1940) made his debut as a book designer in 1914 with the novel Nihonbashi by the celebrated writer Izumi Kyoka. This show traces Komura's evolution from a talented Nihonga artist and art copyist into a prolific book designer and illustrator, highlighting the latter calling in particular with an ample display of his work in magazines and newspapers. Komura's bold layouts utilizing entire magazine pages testify to his mastery of the "art of the printed page."
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Masaya Chiba Exhibition
16 January - 21 March 2021
Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery
(Tokyo)
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A solo show by painter Chiba (b. 1980), who is based in Hachioji, Tokyo. His paintings begin with the construction, from such materials as papier mache and wood scraps, of human figures that he arranges in temporary settings composed of mundane objects he has collected. He then reproduces these tableaux on canvas, exercising a sublime technique that brings out the distinct textures of wood, metal, plastic and so on. Finally, he mounts these works on simple wooden stands he has built for display purposes. In this manner Chiba blurs the boundary between two- and three-dimensional art.
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The Extraordinary Drawings of Kyosai
28 November 2020 - 7 February 2021
Tokyo Station Gallery
(Tokyo)
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The gallery emphasizes that, unlike most exhibitions of work by the protean artist Kawanabe Kyosai (1831-1889), this one doesn't include a single finished painting. Instead, it offers sketches, preparatory drawings, studies, copybooks, and sekiga, pictures Kyosai painted on the spot for entertainment at parties. In other words, all these works emerged directly from the hand of the artist, untouched by colorists, woodblock carvers or printers. The point, according to the gallery, is to "immerse visitors in works that focus solely on his talent."
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Japanese Architecture: Traditional Skills and Natural Materials
24 December 2020 - 21 February 2021
Tokyo National Museum
(Tokyo)
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Exhibitions of contemporary architecture are common enough these days, but this may be the first time that three national institutions, all in Tokyo, have held concurrent coordinated shows on different periods of the history of architecture (the other two venues are the National Museum of Nature and Science and the National Archives of Modern Architecture). Unlike the models typically used for displays of modern or contemporary architecture, the traditional structures (ancient to early-modern) featured here are represented by precise reproductions of their actual frames as well as highly informative cross-sectional models.
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Sleeping: Life with Art - From Goya and Rubens to Shiota Chiharu

25 November 2020 - 23 February 2021

The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
(Tokyo)
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An assemblage of some 120 works -- paintings, prints, photos, videos, 3D objects -- about sleeping. Not too surprisingly, there is something pleasantly lulling about the show, compared to other theme-based exhibitions. Maybe it's because the subjects all have their eyes closed -- so they don't seem to be staring at us? Or because "sleeping" sounds like such a casual topic that it invites us to relax, too? For better or worse, there is very little tension here, allowing for a most leisurely artgoing experience.
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Living Tokyo

5 September 2020 - 31 January 2021

The Watari Museum of Contemporary Art
(Tokyo)
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Since it opened in 1990, Watari-um has introduced numerous works of art in keeping with its espoused mission to showcase "art from Tokyo." This show features works from the museum collection by a dozen artists, among them such luminaries as Nam June Paik, David Hammons, and Shuji Terayama. Supplementing these are displays of previously unreleased documents, as well as new offerings by three guests -- Makoto Aida, Katsumi Watanabe, and the art unit Side Core -- in an exploration of Tokyo through artists' eyes over the past three decades.
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