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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 current or recent exhibitions at museums and galleries around the country.

Note: Emergency measures to minimize the spread of the coronavirus are still in flux. As of this posting most museums in Japan are open, but many require reservations, and further restrictions may be imposed if the situation worsens. If you are planning a visit, please check the venue's website beforehand.

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image image 1 September 2021
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The Treasures of Mitsubishi Collection
30 June - 12 September 2021
Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum, Tokyo
(Tokyo)
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Celebrating Mitsubishi's 150th year as well as the 10th anniversary of the conglomerate's Ichigokan Museum, this exhibition showcases collections amassed by four generations of Mitsubishi presidents, all members of the founding Iwasaki family. The method used to display the legendary Yohen Tenmoku tea bowl (from the Seikado, another Mitsubishi museum that recently closed) is novel: to make its interior visible from all sides, it is situated atypically low. As I circulated the bowl's periphery, it struck me that perhaps there is such a thing as an optimum angle from which to appreciate an artwork.
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Takano Ryudai: Daily Photographs 1999-2021
29 June - 23 September 2021
The National Museum of Art, Osaka
(Osaka)
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Since the 1990s, Takano (b. 1963) has been a leading light in the realm of Japanese photographic expression, consistently producing work that poses new questions and challenges the viewer. With the advent of the smartphone and the SNS, people like Takano who make a point of snapping pictures every day are no longer a rarity. But unlike most such photographers, Takano reexamines, rearranges, and reorganizes his snapshots in ways that throw questions like "What is photography? What is possible with photography?" right back at you.
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Plants: Mainstays of the Planet

10 July - 20 September 2021
National Museum of Nature and Science
(Tokyo)
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Though flora and fauna have thrived on this planet in a relationship of mutual dependence, the forms they take and their modes of survival are so different that the two groups seem to willfully ignore each other. Because plants exist outside the purview of the animal-centric (or more precisely, human-centric) worldview, might they not offer some meaningful clues toward an alternative artistic perspective? Plants, unlike animals, don't have faces, a lack that seems to reduce them in our estimation. On the other hand, plants have flowers. This show does a good job of dismantling our anthropocentric preconceptions.
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Genkyo Yokoo Tadanori
17 July - 17 October 2021
Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo
(Tokyo)
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The 603 pieces in this exhibition, an augmentation of Yokoo's show by the same title at the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art earlier this year, include pretty much all of the artist's major works. The earliest ones show a strong neo-expressionist influence, though certainly not a dominating one; Yokoo's own personal touches are prominent throughout. He glues mirror fragments to the surface of one work and encloses another in neon tubing -- never a dull moment. Also featured are new pieces from the past year or two, and they are stunning. Drawings go haywire, compositions decompose, colors clash: Yokoo has arrived at that sublime place where notions of good and bad have no relevance.
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Tsutsumu: The Origin of Japanese Packaging
13 July - 5 September 2021
Meguro Museum of Art, Tokyo
(Tokyo)
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An introduction to the collection assembled by the late graphic designer Hideyuki Oka of what he called "traditional Japanese packaging." Nearly all the items exhibited here were produced during or before the Showa era (1926-89), so their materials are natural in origin: wood, bamboo, clay, straw, paper, cloth. The act of wrapping something of value is held in high regard in Japan. Indeed, the Kanji ideogram for the verb tsutsumu, meaning "wrap up" or "envelop," derives from an image of a fetus in the womb. Standing before these classic examples of traditional packaging, so meticulous and genteel, one can't help feeling the enormity of our loss as such values fade away.
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Noboru Baba Exhibition
25 July - 12 September 2021
Nerima Art Museum
(Tokyo)
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Manga artist and Nerima resident Baba (1927-2001) drew some picture books that this reviewer read many times over as a child. This retrospective served as a reminder that not only were the stories in those books marvelous, but their illustrations were the pinnacle of perfection. Baba's best-selling Eleven Cats series was printed by a special process that utilized lithography -- a degree of care that no child could possibly recognize. Thanks to this exhibition, I finally understood, as an adult, that these were no ordinary picture books.
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Tange Kenzo 1938-1970: From the Pre-war Period to the Olympic Games and World Expo

21 July - 10 October 2021

National Archives of Modern Architecture
(Tokyo)
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This Olympic and Paralympic year affords a good opportunity to reflect on the pivotal role that architect Kenzo Tange (1913-2005) played in the design of the Tokyo Olympics of 1964, as well as the comparably epochal Osaka World Expo of 1970. This timely retrospective of course highlights the big-ticket national projects that made him famous, like the Yoyogi National Stadium and the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum, but also introduces previously unreleased documentation about lesser-known works, such as plans for an addition to his own home. By focusing on the first half of Tange's career, the show sheds valuable light on what he achieved before he became a household name.
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Walls & Bridges: Touching the World, Living the World
22 July - 9 October 2021
Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum
(Tokyo)
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According to the museum website: "This exhibition features five artists, creators who, by the very passion they gave to expression, transformed the invisible walls enclosing them into a bridge to new possibilities. [Their] works -- an ensemble of paintings, sculptures, photographs, and films -- have almost no elements in common. Yet, they share an unusual affinity: the importance each assigns to 'memory.' In our encounter with five creators who never met, we will feel moved to imaginatively enter each creator's unexpected world."
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Yamashiro Chikako: Reframing the land/mind/body-scape
17 August - 10 October 2021
Tokyo Photographic Art Museum
(Tokyo)
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In the words of the curators, artist-filmmaker Yamashiro (b. 1976) creates "works that confront the history and geopolitical situation of Okinawa (where she was born and raised) and her own relationship to these issues, conveying the voices, bodies, and souls that have been overlooked and overheard." They add, "Rather than simply tracing the evolution of her works in chronological order, the exhibition will . . . introduce a series of inter-resonating themes and motifs as visitors move around the exhibition space."
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miroco machiko: creatures are my mirror
24 July - 20 September 2021
The Museum of Art, Kochi
(Kochi)
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Miroco appeared like a comet over Japan's publishing landscape with her debut picture book, A Day When Wolves Fly, a work brimming with vibrant, wildly imaginative illustrations. She has garnered further acclaim for paintings that fill large canvases with free-form renderings of plant and animal life, as well as for her occasional live-painting improvisations with sound artists. Along with her most recent paintings, book illustrations, and collaborations, this show introduces her life and work in her new home on the southern island of Amami-Oshima.
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