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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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Artist in Residence 2014-2019
5 December 2020 - 14 February 2021
Tsunagi Art Museum
(Kumamoto)
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Located in a small harbor town on the Shiranui Sea in southwestern Kyushu, this museum has made a practice of inviting one artist each year to live for four months in a vacant house in Tsunagi, interact with the community, and produce work to be shown in a solo exhibition at the museum. The six participants -- Seiya Shinotsuka, Akiko Takeuchi, Chie Koda, Akira Kamo, Naoki Tomita, and Yukari Ohira -- were the artists in residence between 2014 and 2019. On display are works from each residency retained by the museum as well as newer pieces by the artists.
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Arts Towada 10th Anniversary Exhibition: Inter+Play Season 1
23 July 2020 - 29 August 2021
Towada Art Center
(Aomori)
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For the past decade the Arts Towada initiative, based at the Towada Art Center, has fostered interplay by Towada citizens with each other and their community through art. The artists invited to join this commemorative exhibition include Yasuhiro Suzuki, who has contributed a large outdoor sculpture in the shape of the city that doubles as a bench; the art collective mé, which has created an all-white gallery space in a downtown building; Michiko Tsuda, whose installation plays games with viewers' senses; evala, who immerses the body in a sea of sound; and Megumi Matsubara, who introduces new work on the theme of the color red.
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Time Flows: Reflections by 5 Artists
19 September 2020 - 11 January 2021
Hara Museum of Contemporary Art
(Tokyo)
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The flyer for the show reads: "2020 has been a year of much trepidation in the face of uncontrollable world events. Amidst such turbulence, this exhibition asks the question: Is it possible for us to perceive, much less remember the everyday phenomena and emotions that arise only to disappear on the outer edge of our consciousness?" The Year of Corona has reminded us of the importance of the inspiration artists derive from the everyday in its humblest manifestations. The five featured here -- Tomoki Imai, Tamotsu Kido, Tokihiro Sato, Masaharu Sato, and Lee Kit -- share a propensity for focusing on quotidian details. (For a detailed review see this issue's Here and There.)
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Eiko Ishioka: Blood, Sweat, and Tears - A Life of Design
14 November 2020 - 14 February 2021
Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo
(Tokyo)
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In this massive, chronologically laid out retrospective, works by legendary designer Ishioka (1938-2012) fill two floors of MOT's galleries. Perceptions of Ishioka's oeuvre may vary from generation to generation; for this reviewer the images that come to mind are her 1966 Summer Campaign for Shiseido featuring the actress Bibari Maeda, and her collaborations with Leni Riefenstahl on Nuba and Francis Ford Coppola on Apocalypse Now. I had thought of her as a figure from the past, but as the second and third sections of this show attest, she continued to turn out work of stunning quality and quantity to the very end. The latter half of her career is dominated by costume designs that transcend any preconceptions of era or nationality.
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M meets M: Togo Murano & Fumihiko Maki

30 October - 27 December 2020
BankArt Kaiko, BankArt Temporary
(Kanagawa)
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Yokohama's BankArt project got its start in the former Daiichi Bank building at Bashamichi Station in 2004. After moving around town, it returned this spring to the same building, now rechristened BankArt Temporary. In the fall it also rented a floor across the street in the old Imperial Silk Warehouse, newly dubbed BankArt Kaiko. Inaugurating the two venues are a pair of exhibitions respectively featuring the work of architects Maki and Murano. The setup naturally invites comparisons: where Murano (1891-1984) was a protean style-shifter, Maki (b. 1928) favors the basic building blocks of straight lines and circles in all his work. Perhaps the two men exemplify the difference between Modern and Contemporary architecture. One thing they do share, however, is an insistence on beautiful proportions. (For a detailed review see this issue's Focus.)
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Tsuyoshi Ozawa All Return
10 October 2020 - 21 March 2021
Hirosaki Museum of Contemporary Art
(Aomori)
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Ozawa is known for numerous conceptual projects, such as his Jizoing series of photos of Jizo statues he made by hand and posed in various landscapes. This solo show features his The Return of . . . series of paintings of historical Japanese figures reimagined in exotic locales they once visited. Ozawa himself travels to each location and creates his work in collaboration with artists there. For this exhibition at the newly opened Hirosaki Museum he adds a new piece he made in Iran, depicting a modern-day local personage, identified only by the initials S.T., who presumably spent time in that country.
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Survive: Eiko Ishioka
4 December 2020 - 19 March 2021
Ginza Graphic Gallery
(Tokyo)
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Ishioka made a splash in the advertising world with her campaigns as art director for big-ticket clients like Shiseido and Parco, revolutionizing the image of women in Japan and helping make the 1980s the "era of the woman." Her ads promoted not just products, but entire concepts and lifestyles in the service of corporate image creation. This two-part show traces Ishioka's career in her home country from her debut until she moved to New York in the 1980s, with Part 1 focusing on her ad campaigns and Part 2 on her graphic artwork.
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Connections: 150 years of Modern Art in Japan and France
14 November 2020 - 4 April 2021
Pola Museum of Art
(Kanagawa)
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Japan and France were critical influences on one another, jointly redefining the parameters of art and aesthetics during the fin-de-siecle years of breakneck modernization in both countries. For this exhibition, the Pola has selected works from its own trove of Western as well as Western-style Japanese art to illustrate how the burgeoning movement of goods, ideas and people between Japan and Europe fostered this cultural cross-pollination. The show also explores the fascination, and illusions, regarding exotic "other" cultures that inevitably accompany such interactions even to this day.
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Michaël Borremans / Mark Manders: Double Silence

19 September 2020 - 28 February 2021

21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa
(Ishikawa)
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Two prominent Belgium-based artists are paired together for the first time. Borremans paints figurative pictures that take their cue from Baroque art in giving form to the darker aspects of the soul, while Manders sculpts fragments of the body in line with his concept of "the self-portrait as a building." Though their media differ, both men explore the intermingling of complex psychological states. Even as they conjure up the mood of silence and stillness alluded to by the title, the two artists engage in a dramatic dialogue that draws the viewer in.
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16th Exhibition of Death Row Art

23 - 25 October 2020

Matsumoto Jiichiro Memorial Hall
(Tokyo)
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Since 2005 this annual exhibition of artwork by death-row prisoners has been sponsored by the Ayako Daidoji and Masao Akahori Fund to Abolish Executions, with the objective of sparking debate over Japan's practice of capital punishment. Most of the works are done in colored pencil or watercolor on paper; many include haiku or other written text. The content ranges from images of Buddhist or Shinto deities, scenic views of flowers or Mt. Fuji, and copies of famous paintings or manga, to erotic drawings, polemical works, and idiosyncratic outsider-type art.
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