The best ongoing exhibitions in Tokyo
World Press Photo 2018
A panel of judges sifted through submissions from 4,548 photojournalists in 125 different countries to select the winners of this year's World Press Photo Contest, and the best shots are now going on display at the Tokyo Photographic Art Museum over the summer. Agence France-Presse photographer Ronaldo Schemidt takes first prize with a photo of a protester on fire during clashes with the police in Caracas, Venezuela, during the ongoing protests against the current regime. The competition also showcases images from the fields of sport, nature, arts, entertainment and daily life, including categories in both staged and observed portraits.
The Miracle of Escher: Prints from The Israel Museum, Jerusalem
A master of optical illusions, Maurits Cornelis Escher (better known as M.C. Escher) is known to this day for his prints which force you to look twice. For the 120th anniversary of his birth, the Ueno Royal Museum is pulling out the stops with this exhibition full of items on loan from The Israel Museum. That includes some of Escher's greatest hits, such as the four-metre long Metamorphosis II. But that's not all: the exhibition is divided into eight parts, each focusing on a different theme in his works. Enough to spend a lazy afternoon browsing, we'd say.
Japan in Architecture: Genealogies of Its Transformation
Japanese architecture has proven to be quite the hit, with architects from Kenzo Tange to Kengo Kuma and Tadao Ando getting much national and international acclaim. High time for a full-scale exhibition, the people at the Mori Art Museum must have thought. Structured as a veritable time travel through Japan’s history of architecture, the exhibition is divided into nine sections explaining architecture with keywords such as ‘the possibility of wooden architecture’ or ‘coexistence with nature,’ supported by architectural documents, models, and hands-on installations. The highlight is a full-scale reproduction of the 'Tai-an', a tea ceremony house connected to Sen no Rikyu, a tea master from the 16th century. If your knowledge is a bit rusty, you can also read up in the book lounge, full of famous modernist furniture pieces.
Jomon: 10,000 Years of Prehistoric Art in Japan
The prehistoric Jomon Period in Japanese history is thought to have started over 13,000 years ago. There is still a remarkable amount of well-preserved artefacts from that time, including the trademark pottery beloved by sculptor Taro Okamoto, intriguing clay figurines and ornaments. A selection of the best is displayed at the Tokyo National Museum in this large-scale exhibition. Don’t miss the six National Treasures of the Jomon Period, including the humanoid clay female figurine ‘Jomon Venus’, on display from July 31 until September 2.
Better known as Cornelius, Keigo Oyamada’s new composition, Audio Architecture, is dissected by a variety of artists at this epic exhibition. Directed by Yugo Nakamura, who has worked with Oyamada in the past, nine artists have created their own interpretation of Audio Architecture in videographic works, which span anything from film, animation and dance to graphic design, illustration, programming and media design. Throughout it all, Oyamada’s piece will be played on loop creating an immersive experience.
Gordon Matta-Clark: Mutation in Space
A seminal figure in America’s conceptual art scene, Gordon Matta-Clark, who died prematurely at just 35 years old in 1978, is finally getting his first solo exhibition in Asia. A trained architect, his signature ‘building cuts’ are sometimes seen as a rejection of all the profession stands for and you can also find traces of fellow disruptors such as Marcel Duchamp, Robert Smithson, Cristo and more in his work. At the MOMAT, you’ll have access to over 200 pieces, ranging from sculptures and drawings to films, photographs and related materials. The biggest of his building cuts, ‘Splitting: Four Corners’, will also have its Japan debut.
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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.
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 Photographic Art Museum
Occupying a four-floor building in one corner of Yebisu Garden Place, Tokyo’s premier photography showcase (formerly known as the Metropolitan Museum of Photography) was re-opened in August 2016 after extensive renovations. It boasts a large permanent collection and brings in leading lights of the photography world for regular star-studded shows. The small Images & Technology Gallery in the basement presents a multimedia history of optics, featuring tricks such as morphing, and the occasional media art exhibition.
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.
Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum, Tokyo
When it was originally built, the Mitsubishi Ichigokan was the first western-style office building in the Marunouchi area. Completed in 1894, the building was designed by British architect Josiah Conder on an invitation from the Japanese government, still newly formed after Japan’s opening to the West. At the time it bustled with activity, containing, among other things, the banking division of the Mitsubishi Company. By 1968, however, it had become dilapidated and was demolished. In 2010, after more than 40 years of silence, the Mitsubishi Ichigokan was reborn on the same site as a major new museum, rebuilt according to Conder’s original plans.