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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: Although Japan's state of quasi-emergency has been lifted, many museums and galleries still require reservations or have other anti-Covid measures in place. If you are planning a visit, please check the venue's website beforehand.

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Honjo Naoki: (un)real utopia
19 March - 15 May 2022
Tokyo Photographic Art Museum
(Tokyo)
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In the words of the curators: "Photographer Naoki Honjo is known for his characteristic style of photography that uses a large format camera with a tilt-shift lens to capture cities as if they were dioramas. Evoking the feeling of a miniature world, Honjo blurs the lines between the reality and fiction of the world around us. This is the artist's first large-scale solo exhibition and will feature approximately 200 works, including previously unseen series, which together provide a comprehensive overview of his career to date. The show also highlights special new works that feature the host cities where his exhibitions are being held."
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Damien Hirst: Cherry Blossoms
2 March - 23 May 2022
The National Art Center, Tokyo
(Tokyo)
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Throughout his controversial career, the British contemporary artist has dabbled in painting, sculpture, and installation as he takes on the big-ticket issues of art, religion, science, life and death. The colorful, dynamic landscapes of his latest series, Cherry Blossoms, are a surprising blend of 19th-century post-impressionism with 20th-century action painting that somehow manages to capture on canvas the transitory glory of their subject. Viewing these huge mural-size works is like taking a stroll under a canopy of cherry trees in full flower.
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Chim↑Pom: Happy Spring
18 February - 29 May 2022
Mori Art Museum
(Tokyo)
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Chim竊善om have made a reputation for themselves as the loud-mouthed delinquents of Japan's art world. The entrance to this retrospective introduces their urban- and public-space-themed projects through photos, videos, and models in a chaotic display with the vibe of a trash-littered back alley. Upstairs is a floor paved with asphalt, with manholes and grates here and there through which one can glimpse the floor below. Viewed in this manner, the people milling around on the ground floor begin to look like swarms of rats or cockroaches in an underground sewer. Though ostensibly a recap of the group's 17 years of activity, the show itself is, in a sense, a new installation. (For a detailed review, see this month's Focus.)
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5th Anniversary Exhibition: Mika Ninagawa
19 March - 15 May 2022
Toyama Prefectural Museum of Art & Design
(Toyama)
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This purports to be the largest exhibition in the Hokuriku region to date for Ninagawa, one of Japan's most visible contemporary photographers and filmmakers. On display are her trademark color-saturated photos of flowers and other flora, as well as her equally vivacious portraits and videos (including a special installation of a new work in progress). The museum assures us that viewers will be enchanted by all of Ninagawa's output, whatever the medium.
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Sunset/Sunrise

15 February - 8 May 2022
Toyota Municipal Museum of Art
(Aichi)
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An introduction to the museum's collection designed around images associated in some way with sunset or sunrise, which the curators describe as "natural phenomena that visit everyone equally, every day . . . The boundless riches of sunset and sunrise lie in the variety of symbolic and interpretive possibilities they offer: sleeping and awakening, ending and beginning, death and life, darkness and light . . . The privilege of witnessing the magical, moving scenes at these times of the day is not dissimilar to encountering an unexpected work of art."
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Masashi Asada: Somebody's Best Album
19 February - 8 May 2022
Art Tower Mito
(Ibaraki)
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Touting itself as the biggest solo exhibition yet of Asada's photography, this show pairs images with the artist's own words in a narrative extending from his earliest efforts to his latest output. Always working within the themes of family and commemoration, Asada is known for humorous set pieces in which his own family members dress up as people engaged in various vocations or activities. In recent years he has also produced series featuring other families in projects where the shooting process itself is part of the commemoration. Here he introduces his most recent My Family series about a farming household in Ibaraki Prefecture, as well as his volunteer efforts in Iwate Prefecture cleaning up family photos that were damaged in the tsunami of 2011.
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25th Taro Okamoto Award for Contemporary Art
19 February - 15 May 2022
Taro Okamoto Museum of Art, Kawasaki
(Kanagawa)
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Named after the legendary avant-garde artist and gadfly, this award honors current artists who, like Okamoto (1911-96), cast a gimlet eye on contemporary society from an original, unfettered perspective. This year -- its 25th -- the award exhibition presents 24 artists or art units selected from 578 submissions. As with past iterations, it promises to be a worthy collection of works that explore new possibilities for art in the 21st century.
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Gems: Miracles from the Earth
19 February - 19 June 2022
National Museum of Nature and Science
(Tokyo)
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The show consists of five chapters: "The Birth of Gemstones," "From Gemstones to Gems," "Characteristics and Diversity of Gems," "The Art of Jewelry," and "Ultimate Gems." As the titles suggest, the first half covers the origins and types of gems while the second half focuses on their beauty, offering an eyeful of gorgeous rings, necklaces, and brooches. Although some of the exhibits are replicas, most are the real thing. One comes away with a clearer understanding of why diamonds have such a hold on the human heart.
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Museum of Mom's Art
22 January - 10 April 2022
Tokyo Shibuya Koen-dori Gallery
(Tokyo)
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Long ago, my aunt made dolls out of discarded neckties. This show offers plenty of similarly nostalgic examples of "Mom Art": a dog made from plastic bands, a rabbit from recycled cotton work gloves, a frog from green cord. These are the sorts of objects that are useless but too cute to toss out -- each one doesn't occupy much space, so they tend to accumulate and take over before we know it. Individually, they seem a bit kitschy, but when several hundred are gathered in one place, we can see a certain unifying methodology at work, and even an aura of artistry, however mystifying.
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Eye of art, Eye of archeology
22 January - 6 March 2022
Yokohama History Museum
(Kanagawa)
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A collaboration between contemporary art and Jomon pottery unearthed in Yokohama. Though that may sound like an odd pairing, not a few contemporary artists (a notable example being Taro Okamoto) have expressed an affinity for Jomon designs and cited them as a source of inspiration. This may be attributable to the dynamic forms favored by Jomon-era artisans and to the ageless, archetypal quality of their spiral patterns. Indeed, there is something Jomonesque in the full-circle aspect of contemporary aesthetics coinciding with those at the dawn of Japanese history, four or more millennia ago.
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