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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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The Illumination of Life by Death: Memento Mori and Photography
17 June - 25 September 2022
Tokyo Photographic Art Museum
(Tokyo)
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The association of photography with death is perhaps inevitable in the sense that photographs capture a moment that no longer exists by the time we view it. Death hovers in many photographic images like a double exposure, and so the proverb memento mori (remember your death) seems to embody something essential about the medium. In this show, the works that attempt to capture a glimpse of death's visage in everyday events are of more interest than those that directly confront death on battlefields or in hospitals. This presentation demonstrates that photographers have never ceased to hone their sensibilities on snapshots that serve as reminders of our own demise.
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Mika Ninagawa: A Garden of Flickering Lights
25 June - 4 September 2022
Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum
(Tokyo)
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When it comes to Japanese photographers who showcase the splendors of color, Ninagawa is in a class by herself. Though her medium of choice is the same one used for snapshots and photojournalism, she wields her camera as if it were a paintbrush. Here she introduces works featuring flora in the various parts of Japan she visited over the past year or so amid the Covid pandemic. Ninagawa explains that she wanted to explore the world of light-saturated "lustrous color." In fact, the newest images on show were shot right in the museum's gardens, which Ninagawa's camera magic transforms into a fantastical world of the imagination.
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Gabrielle Chanel: Manifeste de Mode
18 June - 25 September 2022
Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum, Tokyo
(Tokyo)
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The Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel (1883-1971) introduced in this show is a considerable departure from the prevailing image of her in Japan. The Chanel brand was revolutionary, and the woman herself was a powerhouse of design who tirelessly pursued new challenges. True to her declaration that "tradition is continual innovation," contemporary fashion is the result of a series of leaps forward, many spearheaded by her brand. In the sense that women's liberation from the corset has been linked to the feminist movement, the social significance of innovation in fashion puts Chanel's legacy in a new light.
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Listen to the Sound of the Earth Turning: Our Wellbeing Since the Pandemic
29 June - 6 November 2022
Mori Art Museum
(Tokyo)
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An omnibus presentation of works by 16 artists that "hone the senses and the power of imagination." Leading off are excerpts from Yoko Ono's book of instructions Grapefruit (the source of the exhibition's title), followed by some installations by Wolfgang Laib (b. 1950). The first thing you notice upon entering this gallery is the sweet aroma wafting from his Pollen from Hazelnut and, further in, some works made of solidified milk and beeswax -- substances that humans may think of as food, but which for other organisms are elements crucial to their survival. It is their life-essence that gives us sustenance, and the olfactory stimulation they impart is a reminder of the cyclical relationship of life on this planet.
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Gerhard Richter

7 June - 2 October 2022
The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
(Tokyo)
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The iconic German artist, who turned 90 this year, utilizes the disparate media of photographs and paint in a way that appears to intentionally ignore their differences. From this overt mix of media emerges a field that transcends the confines of both photography and painting. In Richter's oeuvre, not only those media but glass, mirrors, sculpture and performance are reorganized to serve in a comprehensive exploration of the visual world. The 100-plus works on exhibit amply testify to the category-defying, and perhaps as yet unknown and unfinished, greatness of this artist.
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Kansai Contemporary Art of the 1980s
18 June - 21 August 2022
Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art
(Hyogo)
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Say the curators: "In the 1980s, Japan turned away from the previous trend of ascetic contemporary art, and a variety of expressions blossomed against the backdrop of the economic bubble and wave of postmodernism. In particular, in the Kansai region, young artists emerged through opportunities such as a series of exhibitions at the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Modern Art called 'Art Now' and attracted attention as the 'Kansai New Wave.' This exhibition introduces works that are still fresh and rooted in the reality of each creator."
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Brian Eno: Ambient Kyoto
3 June - 3 September 2022
Kyoto Chuo Shinkin Bank Former Welfare Center
(Kyoto)
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The multifaceted musician/artist/producer's belief that art exists to "plant seeds" in people lies at the heart of his efforts to make his work accessible to as many people as possible. Eno's activities insert themselves into the most familiar corners of our life and culture -- he is, for example, the composer of the ubiquitous Windows 95 startup chime. But he is also an activist who has long been engaged with social and environmental issues.
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The Ceramics of Kawai Kanjiro
18 June - 21 August 2022
Nakanoshima Kosetsu Museum of Art
(Osaka)
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Ceramic artist Kawai (1890-1966) has enjoyed renewed attention in recent years thanks to the Mingei boom of late. Born in Yasugi, Shimane Prefecture, he studied ceramics at what is now the Tokyo Institute of Technology before moving to Kyoto, where he opened a studio that would be his base for the rest of his life. He was one of the founding members of the Mingei movement, which championed the "beauty of the practical" as seen in rustic folk crafts with a common touch. Introducing some 100 of his works, this show covers the ceramist's entire career with a focus on pieces that have not been made public before, as well as those collected by patrons of Kawai in the Kansai region.
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Hirakawa Norimichi - Nomura Yasuo: Given Universe | Days of Wonder
2 July - 29 August 2022
Iwami Art Museum
(Shimane)
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A pairing of two Shimane-born artists who create "speculative" works intended to shake up our day-to-day perceptions, both physical and intellectual. Hirakawa (b. 1982) is known for audiovisual installations he programs by computer, while Nomura (b. 1979) produces interactive installations that explore such themes as higher dimensions and outer space. Where Hirakawa declares that "the world is not merely what the eye can see and the ear can hear," Nomura asks, "How much of the world you are looking at now really exists?"
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Brutish and Beautiful: Animal Depictions in Modern Japanese Painting
4 June - 28 August 2022
Umi-Mori Art Museum
(Hiroshima)
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Animals have always been a recurring motif for painters in Japan as elsewhere. Whether as hunters' prey, livestock, or pets, they are an integral part of our lives and have even been objects of worship. In pre-modern Japanese art, animals were usually depicted as creatures with special powers or as auspicious symbols of a long or successful life. This show focuses on animal paintings from the Meiji (1868-1912) up into the Showa (1926-1989) era, affording visitors an opportunity to see how people in modern Japan have viewed animals and what they have meant as subjects for artists.
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