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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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image image 2 November 2020
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Reading Ornamentation: Rediscovering the Architecture of Nihonbashi
2 September 2020 - 21 February 2021
Takashimaya Archives
(Tokyo)
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This show directs our eyes to the architecture of the venerable Takashimaya Department Store and its surrounding neighborhood of Nihonbashi. The only model on display is of the old Teikoku Seima Building, which no longer exists. The rest of the exhibit consists of photographs of structures that still stand and can be viewed just by walking out the door and down the street. Architecture exhibitions, unlike those of art, suffer from the dilemma of being unable to display the actual works on site. In this case, though, you are already standing inside one of the exhibits, and the others await you right around the corner.
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The Beauty of Ainu Handiwork
15 September - 23 November 2020
The Japan Folk Crafts Museum
(Tokyo)
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The museum better known as the Mingeikan takes a reverential look at Ainu handicrafts from the "folk-craft" perspective championed by museum founder and Mingei movement leader Soetsu Yanagi. The word "Ainu" immediately conjures up images of the culture's distinctive patterns, said to be abstractions of ripples in water, wind currents, flames and other natural phenomena. The Ainu aesthetic may seem austere and rustic, but it reflects the life of people who found ways to pay homage to the gods even as they struggled to survive in a harsh environment. Yanagi no doubt appreciated the profound beauty and significance of these patterns. (For a detailed review, see this month's Focus.)
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Iwate: The Essence of Postwar Art
3 October - 29 November 2020
Yorozu Tetsugoro Memorial Museum
(Iwate)
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In any discussion of postwar art in Iwate, one of Japan's northernmost prefectures, the role of the Iwate Prefectural School of Arts and Crafts looms large. Founded in 1948, it was the first new art school to open in the country after the war and implemented a unique curriculum that fostered a great many painters and sculptors. Introducing the work of artists who contributed to Iwate's emergence as the leading art prefecture north of Tokyo, this show challenges us to rethink the conditions under which art can thrive in the remotest parts of the country.
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Yuki Onodera: FROMWhere
8 September - 29 November 2020
The Ginza Space
(Tokyo)
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Japan-born, Paris-based Onodera's current show comprises works from two monochrome series produced by the photographer in the 1990s: Camera and Portrait of Second-Hand Clothes. For the first, she says, she aimed two cameras at each other and clicked their shutters simultaneously. For the second, she acquired articles of old clothing used in a Christian Boltanski exhibition and shot them against the sky through the window of her Montmartre apartment. Deprived of their inhabitants, the clothes have the air of abandoned houses, forlorn and not sure what to do with themselves.
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Bezoar by Charlotte Dumas

27 August - 29 December 2020
Ginza Maison Hermes
(Tokyo)
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Since 2014 the Dutch artist has been photographing wild horses in areas of Japan ranging from Hokkaido in the north to Yonaguni Island far to the southwest. This installation surrounds three video works on horses with an array of clay and wooden equine figures, saddles, bridles -- and bezoars, the round stone-like accretions that form in the animals' stomachs. The result is a multifaceted examination of the long and intricate relationship between horses and human beings.
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Manga Pandemic Web Exhibition
September - 25 December 2020
Kyoto International Manga Museum
(Kyoto)
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This open-call online exhibition in an Independent-style format invites anyone to contribute manga on the subject of the pandemic. All manga styles are welcome -- single-panel, four-panel, long form, what have you. One clever touch is a daily updated report on the number of people infected with the "manga virus" -- i.e., contributors to the project.
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Inter+Play Season 1
23 July 2020 - 29 August 2021
Towada Art Center
(Aomori)
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Part 1 of a three-part celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Arts Towada Project, this exhibition was delayed by the pandemic, but will now remain open till next August. Participating artists include Michiko Tsuda, evala, Megumi Matsubara, Yasuhiro Suzuki, and the art collective mé. Arts Towada is based in the Towada Art Center, a unique facility that boasts 38 permanently installed works by 33 globally active artists. Individual exhibition rooms function as autonomous "houses for art" customized to the works they contain. The very spaces of the museum -- its courtyards, stairwells and roofs -- are a kind of art in themselves.
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Tsuyoshi Ozawa: All Return
10 October 2020 - 21 March 2021
Hirosaki Museum of Contemporary Art
(Aomori)
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Contemporary artist Ozawa is known for the sense of humor that imbues such projects as his Museum of Soy Sauce Art. All Return, his first major show in the Tohoku region, is subtitled "Come back in a hundred years' time. After a hundred years you'll understand." The five paintings in the series reimagine Japanese historical figures in places they are known to have visited overseas; Ozawa traveled to each site and enlisted the aid of local artists. The latest of the works was created in collaboration with sign painters and musicians in Iran.
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Edo Sceneries on Doro-e from the Polak Collection: Distant Views on the Backdrops

24 June 2020 - undecided

JP Tower Museum Intermediatheque
(Tokyo)
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This ongoing exhibition of doro-e (literally "mud pictures") from the Christian Polak Collection highlights a genre of Western-style painting that was popular during the Edo period (1603-1867). Though naテッve and simplistic, with a stereotypical quality reminiscent of the murals on public-bath walls, the pictures aimed at realism and made ambitious use of newly imported techniques like perspective. Most doro-e were anonymously painted, mass-produced souvenirs featuring famous views around Edo. Long dismissed as lacking any artistic value until Western aficionados began buying them up, they are now enjoying a reappraisal in their home country.
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mimacul: Katastroke

25 - 27 September 2020

Theatre E9 Kyoto
(Kyoto)
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Dancer and writer Mika Masuda's performance unit, mimacul, staged this work by Masuda and three dancers representing the traditional styles of Korea, Japan, and Indonesia. The theme was the contrast between dances based on the mastery of inherited kata or forms, and contemporary dance that rejects such strictures and prizes spontaneous expressions of the individual body. After a Q&A period and brief explanations of their respective traditions' kata and cultural background, each of the dancers performed a short, ten-minute solo.
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