The best ongoing exhibitions in Tokyo
Yayoi Kusama: My Eternal Soul
87 and as young as ever: Time magazine recently named Yayoi Kusama one of the world's '100 Most Influential People', her extensive 'In Infinity' exhibition is currently touring Scandinavia, and now Tokyo gets another taste of the bewigged contemporary artist's seemingly endless vitality. Taking over the National Art Center almost in its entirety, ‘My Eternal Soul’ is set to be one of Kusama’s biggest ever shows in the capital and will consist mainly of large-scale paintings from the eponymous series the artist has been working on since 2009. Visitors will also be able to trace Kusama’s career from her early years in France and New York all the way up to the present.
Athletes: those sometimes superhero-esque beings that stretch the limits of the human body by working hard every day, and in the process contribute to technological advancement (and make us feel bad for being couch potatoes). This spring, 21_21 Design Sight is shining a light on these overachievers with an exhibition filled with design perspectives on training, mental health support, physical data, top-notch sports gear and more. With the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics just around the corner, it's a good opportunity to immerse yourself in the subject before the games really get started.
Parody and Intertextuality: Visual Culture in Japan Around the 1970s
Digging into the relationship between parody, social currents and the media, the Tokyo Station Gallery shines a light on visual culture in the '70s with this fascinating show. Focusing on the work of conceptual artists such as Genpei Akasegawa and Tadanori Yokoo, the exhibition consists of around 300 pieces – everything from paintings to manga and posters – that illustrate the golden years of social and political commentary in Japanese art.
Cassandre: The Graphism Revolution
Born Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron, the man best known only as Cassandre (1901-1968) is often mentioned as the greatest poster artist of the 20th century. Inspired by the revolutionary modern art of the 1920s, particularly Cubism, Bauhaus and surrealism, he depicted the onset of the machine age with a keen eye and reinvented the genre of advertisement posters with now-iconic pieces illustrating the wonders of long-distance travel. Having later set up his own ad agency and tutored the likes of Raymond Savignac, Cassandre continued to work in the field even after World War II but eventually succumbed to depression, taking his own life at the age of 67. His vintage posters are now among the most sought-after and expensive pieces out there, so this retrospective makes for a rare opportunity to see Cassandre classics up close. Composed mainly of work collected by designer Ruki Matsumoto, founder of the Ba-Tsu fashion brand, 'The Graphism Revolution' should be fascinating for anyone interested in the history of media art.
This is Kyosai!
One of the last greats of traditional Japanese painting (Nihonga), Kyosai Kawanabe (1831-1889) personally saw Japan and Edo make the leap toward modernity – a leap that the artist himself often ridiculed in his work, caricaturing the mores and manners of the new system and society. Originally a student of the venerable Kano school, Kyosai regularly skirted decency and traditional morality both in his art and in private, but maintained a close connection with the mythology of traditional Japan, as seen in his regular and playful depiction of spirits, animals and other characters. The Bunkamura's spring special looks back at this witty master's career through works borrowed from the Israel Goldman Collection in London, known as one of the world's premier collections of Japanese prints, and offers a multi-faceted look into the creative spirit of the man they called 'the art demon'.
N S Harsha: Charming Journey
Born 1969 in Mysore, southern India, N S Harsha has stayed true to his roots throughout an artistic career that has seen this creator of large, delicate canvases take up themes like environmental issues, the effects of globalisation and economic 'development', and working conditions in the global south. The Mori Museum is now giving Harsha pride of place for its spring special, looking back at the past 20 years of his career through around 70 pieces, including some of the artist's newest work. A clear departure from Mori's regular programming, 'Charming Journey' should make for one of the season's more interesting exhibitions in town.
Sesson: Birth of the Fantastic
Born Heizo Satake in Hitachi province (modern-day Ibaraki), Buddhist monk and self-taught painter Sesson Shukei (1504-1589) was an enigmatic artist in a troubled era. While various warlords battled for supremacy around Japan's provinces in the 16th century, fine art centred on the imperial capital of Kyoto – far from Sesson's native Tohoku. Nevertheless, this master of suiboku-ga ('water ink') pioneered a style all of his own, paving the way for later contrarians such as Edo-era Muromachi revivalist Soga Shohaku, the now wildly popular Ito Jakuchu and ukiyo-e titan Utagawa Kuniyoshi. Here you'll see around 100 of Sesson's representative pieces, many of them inspired by his travels from Kamakura in the south to Oshu up north in Iwate, plus a selection of works by Kano school painters such as Gaho Hashimoto and Hogai Kano – both of whom were influenced by Sesson. Note that some of the displayed pieces will be switched around during the exhibition period.
Shigeru Mizuki Retrospective: The Life of GeGeGe
Master of yokai (supernatural creatures in Japanese folklore) manga and one of the most influential comic artists of his generation, Shigeru Mizuki channelled his own traumatic war experiences and hardship-filled early life into wonderfully imaginative and multi-layered stories – many of which are now being discovered by a new, international readership, in part due to the attention Mizuki's death at the age of 93 received in 2015. This display at Ginza's Matsuya lets you dive deep into the creative process behind 'GeGeGe no Kitaro' and other beloved Mizuki works while recounting the artist's dramatic personal history. In addition to original manga pages, the exhibition includes sketches, early self-portraits, yokai studies and much more – a total of around 130 pieces.
Graffiti Art: Shepard Fairey
The Grand Nikko hotel's Gallery 21 is an unlikely venue for a street art exhibition, but this adventurous space has actually been holding graffiti-themed shows for years now, starting out when the hotel was still called Grand Pacific Le Daiba. This time, it's highlighting genre giant Shepard Fairey, the man behind the 2008 Obama 'Hope' poster and countless other iconic pieces of street art. You'll get to admire works from the Banksy collaborator and Obey founder's early years all the way up to the present.
Bruegel’s ‘The Tower of Babel’ and Great 16th Century Masters
Although Renaissance great Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525-1569) is the only 'master' mentioned in the title of this extensive overview of 16th-century Dutch painting, it is most likely the work of the fanatically fascinating Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516) that will draw crowds to the Metropolitan Art Museum between April and July. Bridging the medieval and Renaissance worlds with highly detailed, often dark and frightening pieces in which visions of hell and demons figure prominently, Bosch shocked his contemporaries and had a massive influence on artists of subsequent generations, including Bruegel. This legacy can be seen in the latter's 1563 masterpiece 'The Tower of Babel' – one of the around 90 paintings, prints, sculptures and other works from the collection of Rotterdam's Museum Boijmans that are set to be displayed here.
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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.
Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo
This huge, city-owned showpiece opened in 1995 on reclaimed swampland in a distant part of Tokyo. Its collection of 4,700 international and Japanese artworks has its moments, but the temporary exhibitions are the main reason to visit. Visitors can access the database, extensive video library, and magazine and catalogue collection (all available in English).
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.
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.