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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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Creation Project 2020: Masu Boxes
1 December 2020 - 20 January 2021
Guardian Garden
(Tokyo)
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A show devoted to masu, those tiny square cypress-wood boxes used to hold sake and all kinds of other things. The masu exhibited here boast motifs by 160 contemporary designers and illustrators, ranging from written messages and geometric patterns to pictures of animals and, of course, sake-inspired themes. Masu originally served as measuring cups for rice and other grains before they found favor as drinking vessels on celebratory occasions. The imaginative graphics covering the masu on show here express another side -- four sides, actually -- of these modest little receptacles.
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Shimekazari: Swirling Wisdom, Future Folk Implements
28 November - 27 December 2020
Lifestyle Design Center
(Tokyo)
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For the past 20 years, graphic designer Sumako Mori has been traveling around Japan studying local forms of shimekazari, the rice-straw rope decorations that households all over the country hang on their doors every New Year. This fascinating exhibition introduces 100 examples from her collection as well as photographs and a map of Japan tracing her travels. Traditionally put up to welcome the god of the New Year and the good fortune he is expected to bring, shimekazari have their origins in the huge shimenawa ropes that grace Shinto shrines. Mori's well-organized exhibit benefits not only from the thoroughness of her research but also from her professional designer's eye.
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New Cosmos of Photography 2020

17 October - 15 November 2020
TOP Museum
(Tokyo)
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Now in its 43rd iteration, Canon's open-call contest continues to define itself as a project "to discover, nurture, and support new photographers pursuing new possibilities in creative photographic expression." However, the definition of photography has expanded over time beyond the confines of the still photo. This year's grand-prize winner, Seiya Higuchi's some things do not flow in the water, is a case in point: a video about manipulating photographs (by spraying them with water in a shower, no less). Yet even as the distinction between still and moving pictures fades, there is no evading the fact that the visual experience of gazing at a still print is something altogether different.
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Motonari Tagawa: Across the Sea
17 - 30 November 2020
The Gallery
(Tokyo)
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Land and its associated memories and beliefs have become an ongoing theme in photographer Tagawa's work. For five years he roamed around Nagasaki Prefecture on Japan's southwestern edge, photographing the Goto Islands, Hirado Island, the Shimabara Peninsula, and his own birthplace, the island of Matsushima. Rather than set an itinerary for himself, he assumed the perspective of a traveler as he recorded scenes and events in places with deep links to the sea and to the Christian faith that arrived over it. From these images one senses the loose network that binds inhabitants of this sunlit maritime region together.
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Mariko Hara: Picture Window
4 - 16 November 2020
Nikon Salon
(Tokyo)
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Hara's snapshots depict everyday life with her husband and children through the frame of a big picture window in their home in the Tokyo suburb of Jindaiji. Outside the window was a verdant patch of woods, which was leveled to make way for a two-story apartment building. Hara recorded that entire process in what became a sort of fixed-point observation sequence that comprises about a third of this show. The remainder is a batch of seemingly random interior shots of home life that subtly hint at quiet undercurrents of domestic tension. The juxtaposition of exterior and interior images is deftly executed.
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Depth Design 1st Exhibition
19 - 26 November 2020
Tiers Gallery
(Tokyo)
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Depth Design, a subsidiary of wall- and roof-coating maker Toyokoh Inc., was set up to study methods of creating public art with wall paint. The new company announced its presence with this exhibition exploring possibilities for public art. That term usually conjures up images of large, outlandish, eye-grabbing works by famous artists, but Depth Design seems interested in something closer to an extension of landscape design as it seeks out new ways of transforming public spaces through the use of wall paint.
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Tokitama Photo Exhibition: Tane

19 - 29 November 2020

Fugensha
(Tokyo)
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The artist Tokitama (b. 1954) began taking snapshots in 2016, when she first acquired an iPhone. Her style could be said to epitomize one approach to photographic expression in the smartphone/SNS era. Instagram and Facebook encourage indiscriminate, scattershot streams of images, but these can be given coherent form through such established media as photo collections and exhibitions. Filtered in this way, images can be reorganized into a solid format that conveys something new to an audience. This show commemorated the publication of Tane ("Seeds"), a collection of her iPhone photos.
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"My Favorite Design": The Selection from Good Design Award 2020
2 - 30 November 2020
Good Design Marunouchi
(Tokyo)
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The stars of this show are the jurors of the Good Design Award. Each of the competition's 84 Japan-resident jurors was invited to choose their favorite design among those on exhibit at the second screening. The resulting selection of 69 works is accompanied by comments from the jurors about their choices. The comments themselves are worth the price of admission since they richly reveal the personalities and idiosyncrasies of each juror to entertaining effect. Many were inspired to wax rhapsodic about childhood memories, coveted items, and products they use at home.
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Naoki Honjo: (un)real utopia
7 November 2020 - 24 January 2021
Ichihara Lakeside Museum
(Chiba)
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A retrospective of the work of photographer Honjo (b. 1978), known for his use of the tilt-shift function on his 4x5-inch large-format camera to create diorama-like landscapes that resemble miniature models. His tohoku 311 series, on public display here for the first time, consists of aerial views of places devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of March 2011, taken three months after the disaster. His images offer one persuasive answer to the question, "When a town disappears, what is left?"
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Akiko Ikeuchi: atomized / inside out
19 November - 6 December 2020
gallery 21yo-j
(Tokyo)
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Opening the gallery door, you find the way blocked by a rope across the entrance. No works are in sight either. Once you are granted permission to enter, an installation resembling a spider's web comes into view. Closer inspection reveals an inverted cone that consists of many silk threads dangling down, converging into a bundle at the bottom. The impression is of an elongated Mt. Fuji turned upside-down; the shape is created not so much by the artist as by the force of gravity. Indeed, Ikeuchi's m.o. is to foreground the properties of thread and let them take over. The thread does the talking, not the artist.
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