The best ongoing exhibitions in Tokyo
Cute and Funny Ukiyo-e
Ukiyo-e prints were to Edo-period folks as magazines and comic strips are to us in modern times: a form of amusement and mass entertainment, depicting scenes from everyday life. This exhibition of ‘cute and funny’ ukiyo-e prints has been curated to evoke in us modern-day viewers the same feelings the Edo-ites folks would have felt when viewing Ukiyo-e art at the time: a sense of humour and light-heartedness. The prints show strange creatures, slapstick comedy, anthropomorphised animals interacting with humans, caricatures of characters from classical stories, and women donning kimonos decorated with outlandish motifs.
Architecture x Photography: A Light Existing Only Here
The symbiotic relationship between photography and architecture began in 1827, when French inventor Joseph Nicephore Niepce (1765-1833) took the first ever photograph of a corner of a building through a window. Niépce was searching for ways to produce images, and thus set up a device called a camera obscura, which captured and projected scenes illuminated by sunlight. The result he got was a blurred image of a building, but from then on, a new medium was born and the link was created – photography has since been used to document old and new structures as well as cityscapes. Taken mostly from the museum’s collection, this exhibition will feature architectural stills by local and international photographers. The works on display include works from the late 1820s to newer works by contemporary photographers. Here you will discover and experience architecture from the photographer’s perspective.
Making the Difference: Vermeer and Dutch Art
One of the most celebrated 17th-century Dutch masters, Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) is the current feature at the Ueno Royal Museum. While Vermeer is known for his limited production (some scholars believe he only painted 35 pieces in total), this exhibition will be showing the most number of his paintings ever in Japan – nine, to be exact. Vermeer is considered a shadowy figure in the history of art as little was known about him and his importance until the 1870s when he was rediscovered, with 35 paintings identified as his. Recognised as a ‘master of light’, Vermeer’s painting captures the everyday life in 17th century Netherlands, depicting women in sparse domestic interiors. One viewing tip: Vermeer used light to guide the viewers through his paintings. Once you follow the natural lighting, the subject will draw you in. The closer you look, the more you will notice the details Vermeer put into not only light and colour but also the textures and the perspectives. (Do note that there may be changes in the exhibits during the exhibition run.)
The Phillips Collection: A Modern Vision
The Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. is one of the world’s most distinguished collections of impressionist and modern American and European art. Founded by art collector Duncan Phillips in 1921, the modern art museum has been collaborating with institutions and foundations around the world to share its impressive collection. This year (2018), The Phillips Collection turns 100 years old, and to celebrate this centennial milestone, Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum is hosting an exhibition with approximately 75 pieces of the Collection’s most treasured artworks. Among the highlights are all-time favourites by Claude Monet, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh.
MINGEI – Another Kind of Art
Mingei literally means ‘arts of the people’ and it refers to handcrafted objects produced by local craftsmen for everyday use. The term was established in 1925 by Soetsu Yanagi (1889 – 1961) who defined the art of mingei as ‘natural, sincere, safe and simple’. This exhibition at 21_21 Design Sight, titled ‘MINGEI - Another Kind of Art’, is directed by product designer Naoto Fukasawa. On display are 146 traditional and contemporary mingei items from The Japan Folk Crafts Museum's collection, handpicked by Fukasawa, along with his personal collection and photographs revealing new forms of mingei. This exhibition covers a highly associative exploration of the legacy of mingei that began to flourish the 1920s.
Iconic, influential and prolific, Hokusai’s ukiyo-e woodblock prints are some of the most instantly-recognisable pieces of Japanese art around the world – in particular, his ‘Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji’ series and of course, ‘The Great Wave’. These works and almost 500 others are on show in an extraordinary collection at the Mori Museum, including some recently discovered and never-before-shown pieces. Hokusai Updated casts a comprehensive view of the artist’s work, from age 20 until the time he put down his brush at the age of 90. The eccentric artist, born in 1760 and destined to be a mirror-polisher for the shogun, ended up producing around 30,000 works of art, and inadvertently influencing the Western Impressionist Movement and the Japonism movement that swept through Europe in the 19th century. The Hokusai Manga (‘Hokusai Sketches’), which triggered the Japonism movement, are also on display.
Toshiko Okanoue, Photo Collage: The Miracle of Silence
Surrealism – as an artistic, intellectual and literary movement – experimented and tried to find ways of visualising the subconscious mind, quickly developing several techniques in both painting and photography. The movement spread throughout the world and was certainly felt in Japan. Japanese artist Toshiko Okanoue was exposed to the western surrealist tradition when she met Shuzo Takiguchi, the leader of the surrealist movement in Japan, in 1951. Influenced by the Collage Novel of Max Ernst, Okanoue developed her artistic skills through the use of photo collage. The Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum will include works from Okanoue’s collection, introducing fragments and mementos of the society and fashion which reflect the era of a post-war revival.
Le Corbusier and the Age of Purism
For its 60th birthday, The National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo is hosting a grand exhibition dedicated to Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, better known by his pseudonym Le Corbusier (1887-1965), the architect who designed this very building. Jeanneret is widely regarded as one of the three greatest masters of modern architecture, along with Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe. Le Corbusier published a manifesto about modern architecture in 1920, calling his philosophy ‘purism’; he believed that buildings should have a clean and pure structure. Many of his buildings are characterised by pilotis (pillars), separation of structural frame and walls, free flat surfaces, free standing surfaces and rooftop gardens – and the museum stands as an example.
Roppongi Crossing 2019: Connexions
Held every three years, Mori Art Museum’s ‘Roppongi Crossing’ series provides an close-up look at Japan’s changing art scene. Its sixth edition brings together 25 Japanese artists and collectives to reflect on an era in which demands for new technologies are high and information is a commodity. A world of diversity but also conflicts sparked by political interests and an ever-growing economic disparity has become increasingly apparent on social media. The museum highlights these issues that are created through communication. As an antithesis, the participating artists offer ways of turning ideas upside down and the different types of ‘connection’ that can be found in today’s society.
Art Fair Tokyo
2019 marks the 14th edition of Art Fair Tokyo – Japan’s largest international art event. This year’s theme is ‘Art Life’, and a new section will be introduced called ‘Crossing’, which represents the intersection of all the different styles in today’s art scene. A veritable kaleidoscope of works will be on display, including design booths from big-name Japanese department stores, local artisan groups and self-taught artists. They’re also bringing back some of the most popular sections from previous years, including the embassy collaboration ‘Word Art Tokyo’ and the university collaboration ‘Future Artists Tokyo’.
Lineage of Eccentrics: The Miraculous World of Edo Painting
Based on art historian Nobuo Tsuji’s 1970 book ‘Lineage of Eccentrics’, this exhibition explores the powerfully imaginative world of Edo paintings. Major works by eight prominent artists – Iwasa Matabei, Kano Sansetsu, Ito Jakuchu, Soga Shohaku, Nagasawa Rosetsu, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Hakuin Ekaku and Suzuki Kiitsu – will be shown in one venue, complemented with a number of important cultural properties.
Kawanabe Kyosai: Nothing Escaped His Brush
Known as the ‘demon of painting’, Kawanabe Kyosai (1831-1889) playfully depicted spirits, animals and otherworldly creatures in his works. Recent research has revealed how Kyosai expanded his artistic oeuvres by taking in advanced new painting techniques, expressions and even themes, while at the same time staying true to the traditional Kano School styles and methods. Having personally seen the chaotic years at the end of the Tokugawa shogunate and the launch of the Meiji Restoration, the painter drew a wide variety of topics and themes about the new system and society. This exhibition will explore his active role during this period, while highlighting the characteristic lines that he is known for in his works.
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teamLab Planets Tokyo
Tokyo Bay islands could best be termed 'teamLab islands' by now – hot off the heels of the much-hyped teamLab Borderless Museum on Odaiba, this temporary museum right next to Shin-Toyosu Station offers a more intimate interaction with the collective's signature digital art. Back in 2016, teamLab collaborated with e-commerce business DMM.com to create the very popular DMM.Planets exhibition; this museum is in essence an extension of that. There are a mere seven installations, but they are spread out across a full 10,000sqm, giving them lots and lots of space each. All of them offer a more sensorial and immersive experience compared to the teamLab Borderless Museum nearby. We won't spoil all the secrets, but for starters, no shoes are allowed inside the museum, and you'll be wading through knee-deep water in some places. We'd highly recommend wearing something above the knee (although skirts may not be the best idea due to the amount of floor mirrors); the museum offers a wrap-around if needed. Even better, they are open until 1am, one of the few museums in Tokyo to be open that late. Our only caveat remains the price tag: ¥3,200 for adults (and a whopping ¥6,000 for priority access), which is the same price as teamLab Borderless, which has 50-odd pieces to ogle at rather than seven. But hey, if you need more Insta likes... Book your tickets through their official website. Opens July 7, 2018, through autumn 2020
Tokyo National Museum
If you have just one day to devote to museum-going in Tokyo and are interested in Japanese art and artefacts, this is the place to visit. Japan’s oldest and largest museum houses over 110,000 items. Past the ornate gateway, there’s a wide courtyard and pond surrounded by three main buildings. Directly in front is the Honkan, or main gallery, dating from 1938, which displays the permanent collection of Japanese arts and antiquities. The 25 rooms regularly rotate their exhibitions of paintings, ceramics, swords, kimonos, sculptures and the like. The Toyokan building to the right features five floors of artworks from other parts of Asia; the Hyokeikan, the 1909 European-style building to the left, is currently closed to visitors. Behind the Hyokeikan is the Gallery of Horyu-ji Treasures, which houses some of Japanese Buddhism’s most important and ancient artefacts, from the seventh-century Horyu-ji temple in Nara. The Heiseikan, behind the Honkan, holds three to four temporary exhibitions of Japanese and Asian art each year. There are also a couple of restaurants in the complex, and a good gift shop.
The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
This is an alternative-history MoMA, one consisting mostly of Japanese art from the turn of the 20th century onwards. Noteworthy features of the permanent collection are portraits by early Japanese modernist Ryusei Kishida and wartime paintings. The 1969 building, designed by Yoshiro Taniguchi (father of architect Yoshio Taniguchi) was renovated in 2001. Its location next to the moat and walls of the Imperial Palace makes it a prime stop for viewing springtime cherry blossoms and autumn foliage. Nearby is the Crafts Gallery, an impressive 1910 European-style brick building, once the base for the legions of guards who patrolled the Imperial Palace.
Mori Art Museum
The exhibitions are world-class, focused mainly on contemporary culture, but the secrets of the Mori Art Museum’s success are location (part of the phenomenally popular Roppongi Hills), location (on the 52nd and 53rd floors of the Mori Tower, offering spectacular views) and location (within a two-floor ‘experience’ that includes a bar, cafe, shop and panoramic observation deck). One ticket allows access to all areas, and the late opening hours maximise accessibility. Exhibitions are deliberately varied, with past offerings including Bill Viola’s video art, a survey of the Middle Eastern art world and the periodic Roppongi Crossing group shows for Japanese artists. The vista from Tokyo City View isn’t quite 360°, and it’s expensive compared to the free Tokyo Metropolitan Government building observatory, but the views are arguably better, especially at night with a drink in your hand from Mado Lounge. If you don't mind paying an extra ¥500, you take a short elevator ride to the rooftop Sky Deck, and take in an even better – not to mention rather breezier – vista.
The National Art Center
The National Art Center was opened on January 21, 2007, boasting the largest exhibition space of any museum in Japan. Unlike most conventional domestic art galleries, the National Art Center does not have its own permanent collection, instead choosing to hold special exhibitions only. Entry to the Center’s atrium is free, and the space boasts a café, two restaurants and an excellent shop, Souvenir From Tokyo.