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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.

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Impossible Architecture: Another History of Architecture
2 February - 24 March 2019
The Museum of Modern Art, Saitama
(Saitama)
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From Vladimir Tatlin's Monument to the Third International to Zaha Hadid's New National Stadium, this show covers a century of architectural marvels that were designed but never built. As in the case of Hadid's proposal for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which was on the verge of construction when it was suddenly scrapped by the Japanese government, the "impossibility" of these structures was more often than not political or economic in nature rather than technological.
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Hisui Sugiura: Image Collector
9 February - 26 May 2019
The National Museum of Modern Art
(Tokyo)
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Sugiura (1876-1965) pioneered graphic design in Japan in an era when neither the term nor the concept existed yet, creating posters and book and magazine covers for various businesses, most notably the Mitsukoshi Department Store. This exhibition introduces a sizable sampling of his vast oeuvre as well as his scrapbooks and some of the foreign newspapers, magazines, and art books he collected. These materials testify to the breadth of influences that contributed, through his work, to the birth of the eclectic blend of East and West that characterizes modern Japanese design.
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Leiko Ikemura: Our Planet - Earth & Stars

18 January - 1 April 2019
The National Art Center, Tokyo
(Tokyo)
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Ikemura has been linked with the Neo-Expressionist movement since moving to Germany in the 1980s. But this exhaustive solo exhibition, her first in Japan since 2011, demonstrates that her Neo-Expressionist work was only a transitional style and that she has long been grappling with much broader and deeper concerns. The fruits of that struggle can be seen in her huge landscape paintings in the culminating "Cosmic Landscape" section of the show. (See the review in the February 2019 Focus
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Heroes and People in the Japanese Contemporary Art
12 January - 17 March 2019
Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art
(Hyogo)
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The novel theme of this show is the role of heroic figures vis-a-vis the "people" or masses portrayed in visual culture over the course of Japan's prewar, wartime, postwar and high-growth periods. Flouting the usual high-art/low-art dichotomy, it gathers examples of hero worship from across the spectrum of fine art, conceptual and performance art, manga and anime. Though undergirded by an incisive view of the past as a source of warnings for the present, the show is weakened by the gender bias in its tacit recognition of the male body as the paradigmatic image of heroism, in war and antiwar activism alike.
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Toshiko Okanoue, Photo Collage: The Miracle of Silence
26 January - 7 April 2019
Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum
(Tokyo)
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Okanoue appeared seemingly out of nowhere in the 1950s, made a splash with her surrealistic photo collages, and vanished almost as quickly. Her works -- at once delicate and powerful -- are perfectly framed by the art-deco ambience of the Teien Art Museum, housed in a prewar mansion built by an imperial prince. (For a detailed review see this month's Focus.)
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Hananokage: Pictorialism of the Nobility in Meiji Photography
5 February - 3 March 2019
JCII Photo Salon
(Tokyo)
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Hananokage was a photography journal -- more like a private hobbyists' magazine -- published from 1903 to 1908, in the late Meiji era, by a group of camera buffs who belonged to Japan's peerage. It was a time when pictorialism or "art photography" was the rage among amateur Japanese photographers. JCII has reprinted the images featured in 13 issues of the publication in its possession, making them available for public view for the first time. As a window into a critical period of Japanese photographic history, it's a significant presentation.
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21st Domani: The Art of Tomorrow
23 January - 3 March 2019
The National Art Center, Tokyo
(Tokyo)
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This year's installment of the annual showcase of work by participants in the Agency for Cultural Affairs Program of Overseas Study for Upcoming Artists focuses on nine such artists (plus one guest) who studied abroad in the last three or four years. Many of these youthful practitioners' works are highly experimental. They run the gamut from a painting of an object that looks like a shamanistic ornament from some primitive tribe, harking back to the prehistoric origins of painting itself, to an installation in which viewers must switch seats around a table to see the entire piece, as if in a scientific laboratory.
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Architectural and Special Work: Design for Children
12 January - 24 March 2019
Shiodome Museum
(Tokyo)
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If toddlers take their first steps outside wearing what we call their "first shoes," then by extension, the first nursery school or kindergarten they enter is their "first public space." This show studies how such spaces have evolved since Japan established a modern education system in the late 19th century. The photos on display reveal how flexibly school buildings have changed with the times, suggesting that institutions of primary education can provide a useful overview of currents in modern architecture.
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30 Years of Plaza Gallery: Tempus Fugit

12 January - 31 March 2019

Tokyo Art Museum
(Tokyo)
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Plaza Gallery opened in the western Tokyo suburb of Sengawa in October 1988. Commemorating the gallery's three decades is this show at a museum right across the street; together the two venues anchor "Ando Street," Sengawa's unique row of cultural facilities designed by architect Tadao Ando. Spotlighted are 12 photographers who have exhibited at the gallery over the years. Their output chronicles not only the dramatic changes this small town has undergone during those decades, but also those in the photography world, above all the transition from analog to digital.
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Aki Goto: Terra
19 January - 4 March 2019
Canon Gallery S
(Tokyo)
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Goto aims his shutter at Japanese landscapes that have been shot by countless photographers, but breaks those archetypal scenes down into their constituent elements -- light, time, color, shape, sound, temperature, smell, wind -- before reconstructing them in his printed images. The result is the emergence from these landscapes of a vision of our planet at its most primeval and eternal.
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