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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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Makiko Kakizaki: Aononymous; Full circle
20 June - 29 July 2018
Poetic Scape
(Tokyo)
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"Aononymous," a coinage by the artist, is a play on the name of her home prefecture of Aomori. And indeed, these photos have a certain anonymity in the sense that they reflect virtually no identifying characteristics of the region. Rather than attempt to capture what is special about Aomori, Kakizaki scrutinizes the details of its landscapes like a doctor examining a patient. Yet by leaching all extraneous noise from the scenery as she has done in the 14 prints on display here, she loses the ambiguities and implications inherent in the original photographs. A bit more balance would be desirable.

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Aplus x ATLIA
7 April - 20 May 2018
Kawaguchi Art Gallery ATLIA
(Saitama)
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The participants in this group show -- all 30 of them -- are members of Aplus, a group of artists who share studio space in the former Shibazono High School building in Kawaguchi, a suburb just north of Tokyo. Out of 30 artists, one should be happy to find two or three producing something worth looking at. Here there were at least two who showed special promise: Nozomi Suzuki, who prints landscapes on window glass and mirrors, and Akira Ishiguro, who paints meticulous marble patterns.

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Iwasa Matabei: The Tale of Princess Joruri

27 April - 5 June 2018

MOA Museum of Art
(Kanagawa)
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Shown for the first time in four years, this classic scroll-painting series -- a registered Important Cultural Property by Edo-period artist Iwasa Matabei (1578-1650) -- relates the love story of the legendary warrior Yoshitsune and Princess Joruri, a tale so often recited by itinerant blind monks during the feudal era that an entire genre of storytelling is called Joruri. The epic fills twelve scrolls, all on display in this exhibition. More fascinating than the narrative were the luxuriant colors employed to depict the attire of the characters and the furnishings of their boudoirs.

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Okamura Keizaburo Exhibition

21 April - 24 June 2018

The Hiratsuka Museum of Art
(Kanagawa)

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Beginning with early animal-motif paintings by Okamura (b. 1958) from the eighties and nineties, we are led into a labyrinthine array of two-meter-high wooden panels portraying fish, mythical beasts and the like, emerging only to find ourselves surrounded by huge three-meter screens on which Okamura has deconstructed, then reconstructed a series of gallery-size works produced over the past decade. One must view this assemblage as a single installation, but the experience is something like that of the blind men trying to get a handle on the elephant.

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Sarugaku Masks: Shaping the Culture of Noh
10 March - 3 June 2018
Miho Museum
(Shiga)
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As I gazed at one mask after another (350 were gathered here from various parts of Japan), I started to feel queasy. These are masks that were actually worn on the faces of flesh-and-blood actors, and therefore seem to have acquired a weird aura unlike anything exuded by paintings, sculptures or ceramics. Moreover, they are made of wood, an organic material closer to human flesh than stone or metal might be. Where the paint has peeled off, the masks resemble the crumbling visages of charred corpses. It was a spooky encounter.
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The Rimpa School -- from Tawaraya Sotatsu to Tanaka Ikko

12 May - 8 July 2018

Yamatane Museum of Art
(Tokyo)
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The Rinpa School was notable for a lineage that extended across time, place, and class, transmitting the decorative style of Tawaraya Sotatsu and Honami Koetsu to the 17th and 18th centuries via Ogata Korin and into the 19th century via Sakai Hoitsu. None of these men identified themselves as Rinpa artists; indeed, the appellation did not appear until the 20th century, as a postwar truncation of the Meiji-era term "Korin-ha." Picking the late graphic designer Ikko Tanaka as present-day heir to the Rinpa line makes sense, since he grasped the essence of Rinpa more fully than did any of his Nihonga artist contemporaries.
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Akihisa Hirata: Discovering New
24 May - 15 July 2018
TOTO Gallery Ma
(Tokyo)
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Hirata sees architecture as a "biological activity in the broad sense." Buildings undergo constant change at the hands of the people who occupy and utilize them, as well as from exposure to the elements. They are, in short, a type of ecosystem, and the job of the architect is to design spaces in which these diverse forces can intermingle. Organizing by concept Hirata's works over the past decade as well as ongoing projects, this show effectively gave viewers a glimpse into the architect's brain.
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Shiseido Art Egg 12: Yuma Tomiyasu Exhibition
8 June - 1 July 2018
Shiseido Gallery
(Tokyo)
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This was a big installation. Opening a door at the bottom of a staircase, you found yourself in a darkened room with another door, which led to another room, and so on: the gallery had been subdivided into several chambers and corridors. Pictures on the walls jiggled and swayed; a TV set suddenly came to life; lights flickered on and off. The effect was of a child's nightmare, or a haunted house. Sad to say, it's been done before, making the impact less dramatic than intended.
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Nobuhiko Utsumi Exhibition
5 - 16 June 2018
FEI Art Museum Yokohama
(Kanagawa)
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The centerpiece of this show was the 36-meter-long row of screen paintings covering 48 panels that comprise Utsumi's Innerscape 2016-18 Multiverse project. Utsumi composes his works by pouring sumi ink on a panel and blowing air to make the ink flow in complex liquid patterns. The method harkens back to Surrealism, but Usumi avers that his work is "nature itself manifesting the power of qi prized by the painters of ancient China," through which he "aims for a fierce countercurrent to Modernistic art." That may explain why he prefers folding screens to canvases -- but is there a narrative to be found on the panels?
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Japan Media Arts Festival
13 - 24 June 2018

The National Art Center Tokyo
(Tokyo)

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As with every iteration of the festival, I took only a cursory look at this year's offerings, bypassing works that were too much trouble to deal with. Though this approach may sound dismissive, be that as it may I'd like to give due praise to two works that made me stop in my tracks. Ryo Orikasa's clay animation Datum Point gives birth to the text, one letter at a time, that makes up the titular poem by Yoshiro Ishihara, who was imprisoned in a Siberian POW camp. And Gary Setzer's video Panderer (Seventeen Seconds), at once addressing and embodying the average artgoer's attention span, is the ideal artwork, one in which form and content perfectly coincide.
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