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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: Many museums in Japan are closed until 31 May due to the Japanese government's latest emergency declaration to minimize the spread of the coronavirus. If you are planning a visit, please check the venue's website beforehand.

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image image 17 May 2021
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Maestros & Palettes
10 April - 13 June 2021
Kushiro City Museum of Art
(Hokkaido)
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An intriguing assemblage of works by modern and contemporary masters alongside the palettes they used. Featured are such legends as Picasso and Utrillo as well as domestic modernists like Ryuzaburo Umehara, Sotaro Yasui, and Takeshi Hayashi. The volume, color, and arrangement of the paints, as well as the shape and material of the palettes themselves, reveal the variegated personalities and color sensibilities of their owners. Viewers should come away with a fresh perspective on the brushwork and compositional techniques of each artist.
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Apple Cycle / Cosmic Seed
10 April - 29 August 2021
Hirosaki Museum of Contemporary Art
(Aomori)
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The theme of this show is the apple, appropriate for the museum's location in the middle of Japan's "apple kingdom." A symbol of everything from fertility to life's evanescence, the fruit has served as a subject for Western artists down through the ages like no other. The contemporary artists featured here, however, treat the apple not as an icon, but as a raw material with which to explore new approaches to expression. One highlight is an installation by Welsh artist Cerith Wyn Evans, whose research on apples in Hirosaki in 2019 has yielded a totem of light that combines planetary orbits and the formula for universal gravitation as symbolic motifs.
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Ties and Bonds in Graphic Design: DNP Graphic Design Archives Collection
2 March - 6 June 2021
Center for Contemporary Graphic Art
(Fukushima)
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To quote from the gallery's English page: "One role of graphic design is to take something abstract, or a message, and give it visual form. To take what is invisible to the eye -- a concept or slogan or philosophy -- and render it as something visible that can be conveyed to others is one aspect of the act of designing. What this means is that graphic design is at all times in an inseparable relationship with a tie, a connection, through the medium of communication. By looking at how graphic design has expressed ties and bonds, and then reconsidering today, 10 years after the [March 2011] earthquake disaster, the graphics of the expressions found there, this exhibition examines how such expression has evolved."
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Toshi Maruki: Original Paintings for Picture Books
24 April - 13 June 2021
Kurumaya Museum of Art, Oyama City
(Tochigi)
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Toshi Maruki (1912-2000) is best known for the Hiroshima Panels, the powerful series of atomic bomb-themed murals she painted with her husband Iri Maruki. But she also produced illustrations and designs for over 150 picture books. She began her career illustrating books about the scenery and customs of other countries, then, after World War II, pioneered the illustration of children's tales from Europe and Russia. She went on to illustrate Japanese folktales and legends, and eventually to write and draw her own picture books, including nonfiction works documenting the atomic bombings, Minamata Disease, and the Battle of Okinawa. The 81 original works on display here testify to the diversity of her oeuvre.
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Tiger Tateishi: The Retrospective

10 April - 4 July 2021
Chiba City Museum of Art
(Chiba)
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Born in Fukuoka Prefecture, Tateishi (1941-98) moved to Tokyo for university and made his debut as an artist in the 1963 Yomiuri Independent exhibition. With their colorful appropriations of iconic personalities and images of the day, his works gained notice as a distinctly Japanese form of Pop Art. Whatever period he created them in, they contained layers of disparate concepts and events piled atop one another like geological strata. More to be "read" than "viewed," they reveal not only a world crafted by the artist, but the multidimensional circuitry of our own collective worldview.
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Artists' Breath: Artists in the Midst of the Pandemic
3 April - 27 June 2021
Ichihara Lakeside Museum
(Chiba)
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The coronavirus pandemic has created a rare situation in which all 7.7 billion people on the planet are experiencing the same "now" together. To document that collective moment, this Instagram project enlisted artists who have participated in the five regional art festivals directed by arts impresario Fram Kitagawa. One, the Boso Satoyama Art Festival, takes place annually in the area where the museum is located, but was postponed from last year and has yet to open this year. Meanwhile, the museum is hosting an omnibus of two-minute videos by 194 artists and art units from around the world. Linked by the ocean of life that surrounds us and by these historically trying circumstances, the artists express diverse thoughts about what it is like to live today.
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Somewhere Between the Odd and the Ordinary
29 April - 26 September 2021
21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa
(Ishikawa)
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A reexamination of the "everyday" at a time when we have been made newly aware of it. What is it that makes the everyday the everyday? Attempting to capture the present moment in the gap between the ordinary and the extraordinary, this show introduces works that highlight little creative endeavors that tend to go unnoticed in our daily lives; works that unveil the secrets of the heart when it must suddenly confront loss and disaster; and works that give form to everyday events that are constantly changing shape.
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Human and Animal - Breathing Life into Clay
24 April - 20 June 2021
Museum of Modern Ceramic Art, Gifu
(Gifu)
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A presentation of some 100 ceramic works by five artists from Japan, Europe, and America who work with human and animal motifs in clay. Each artist brings a different set of objectives to the process of applying clay's properties to expressions of the vitality and reality of living forms. Viewers will enjoy the variety of figures that emerge from the latent power and beauty of the material.
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Self-Portraits of Artists

24 April - 6 June 2021

Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art
(Fukuoka)
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Portraits of the artist by the artist give us a glimpse into the psyche and self-appraisal of the subject. These self-portraits by over a dozen modern Western-style Japanese painters are complemented by those of contemporary artists like Yayoi Kusama. Rounding out works from the museum's collection are several (by Tsuguharu Foujita, Rei Kamoi, and Ryuzaburo Umehara among others) on loan from the Kasama Nichido Museum of Art in Ibaraki Prefecture.
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In Search of Origins: Art Practices Rooted in the Environments of Kyushu

27 March - 13 June 2021

Contemporary Art Museum, Kumamoto
(Kumamoto)
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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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