Last Updated:Sep 16, 2016

10 Things in Tokyo: August 2016

A short list of events and exhibitions happening in Tokyo and beyond this month.


[Image: Ed Ruscha

12 Rooms 12 Artists
Focusing on the minimalist prints and photography of conceptual pop artist Ed Ruscha and the moodily realist portraits of painter Lucian Freud, Tokyo Station Gallery devotes 12 of its rooms to a single artist each. In addition to these two luminaries, works from the UBS Art Collection by prominent international artists including Nobuyoshi Araki, David Hockney, Susan Rothenberg, and Tsuyoshi Ozawa form “a world map of contemporary art.” Through September 4th. MuPon discount available.


Tomoko Konoike “Primordial Violence 2: A New Species of Bone”
Tomoko Konoike delves into primal life forces in her imaginative, energy-packed paintings and sculptures rendering the skin, blood, and bone of wild creatures from earth and beyond. Following up on last year’s solo show “Primordial Violence,” her new exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art Gunma features such dynamic installations as a 25 meter-high cowhide drop curtain painted in vibrant primary colors. Ends August 28.


A Treasury of Written Characters
Akira Nakanashi, born into an illustrious family of printing tycoons in the late-1920s, spent a quarter century travelling the world in pursuit of the most intriguing examples of its writing systems. His collection of some 3,000 characters from 95 languages is now a jewel of the National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka. Lixil Gallery in Ginza is displaying 80 of its most interesting “specimens” from the Middle East, Europe, Southeast Asia and China, revealing the diverse cultural functions and beauty of these linguistic artifacts. Through Aug. 27. Admission is free.


ICC Kids Program 2016: Media Art as an Awareness Filter

Elementary school students and technophiles will want to head to ICC in Shinjuku for an engaging exhibit that lets visitors play, program, and create while exploring the world of media art. Interactive displays include a robot game, music composition equipment, animation turntables, and a knitting machine turning error signals into glitch art. There is also a jam-packed series of workshops and events. Ends Aug. 31. Admission is free.


Technique and Expression in Traditional Japanese Painting
The Nezu Institute of Fine Arts, home to a lovely garden and teahouse as well as a superb collection of classical Japanese and Asian art, presents an exhibition that can be thought of as a sort of Traditional Japanese Painting 101 class. Get a feel for the techniques and the terminology used in ink and gold paintings and other genres while admiring masterpieces from the museum’s collection. Through September 4.

Katsushi Izumi Exhibition
Katsushi Izumi(1943-2005) was a pioneering dancer of post-war Japan who studied under the likes of Midori Ishii and Katsuko Orita and would later be called upon by famed French choreographer Maurice Béjart to appear in one of his multi-cultural inspired ballet performances. On his return to Japan he was loved and envied by many and went on to present the controversial piece “Fallen Angel” in 1979. He appeared to promise a whole new direction for Japanese contemporary dance but perceptions of him as a heretic to his teachers prevented the field from realizing this potential. Yet he continued his dedication to dance and artistic expression throughout his life and this exhibition pays tribute to his creative output centering upon a selection of 200 paintings which reveal the images behind much of his performative work. Ends August 21.

Takashi Homma “Various Shaped Hoses and Snake”
Between 1963 and 1978 artist Ed Ruscha produced a series of 16 photobooks, with snapshots of mundane subjects such as gas stations, apartments, highways and more, all largely taken with his 2¼-inch-format Yashica camera. These photobooks were to become somewhat of a phenomenon, with their strategy, subject and format being appropriated and referenced by other artists as early as 1968 and going on to inspire homages and parodies from subsequent generations. Renowned Japanese photography Takashi Homma has long been drawn to this landmark series and since 2014 has been working in collaboration with Yoshihisa Tanaka of Nehrol and Post publishers to pay his own tribute to Ruscha’s legacy in the form of his own photobook series. The 5th publication in this project is designed around Ruscha’s “Various Small Fires” published in 1964. Ends August 17.

New Intimacies
Having recently relocated from Setagaya to Sugamo, XYZ collective unveil their latest curated exhibition “New Intimacies”. One may think that the art world is enclosed, insular and a little incestuous, where everyone knows everyone else, but this exhibition takes this to new heights by celebrating the artist, curator and gallerist couples of the (principally Japanese) art scene, with the likes of Ei Arakawa x Sergei Tcherepnin, COBRA x Yui Yaegashi, Jeffrey Rosen x Misako Rosen and more. What will be born from these close encounters?

Fiona Tan “Ascent”
Internationally recognized contemporary artist Fiona Tan has built up a practice centering upon film and photography through which she has continuously explored the bounds of human memory and the space between fictional narrative and factual documentary. In this new commission for the Izu Photo Museum she takes on the myth enshrouded symbol of Japan, Mt. Fuji, through a seemingly never ending stream of over 4000 found images gathered across different generations and spaces of time, narratives and histories, from ukiyo-e to the Second World War, from Western imperialism to contemporary tourism, from the dawn of photography to the present day. Through October 18. MuPon discount available.

Makoto Aida “Let us dream of evanescence, and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things.”
After the media black out on all concrete details of the exhibition before its opening, we are finally enlightened as to the contents of Makoto Aida’s solo exhibition at Mizuma Art Gallery – Ichigaya and we may certainly feel he has unveiled something beyond all expectation. We find not the overt expressions of political opinion which the publicity image featuring Shinzo Abe might have suggested to us, nor the ruminations on sex, war and violence which have typically associated with this artist but instead threatens to go all wabi-sabi on us with a show inspired by Tenshin Okakura’s The Book of Tea. Written in the aftermath of the Russo-Japanese war this book critiques a world of greed and lowliness and upholds the need to appreciate beauty and humanity in the simplest of acts. Here Aida returns to the basics of painting and aesthetics through plastic bento-boxes and amorphous blobs of painted urethane foam. As Aida has claimed “It doesn’t concern me if this causes people who have chosen to be my fans until now, and people who have not, to completely switch places” we are challenged here to take sides. Ends August 20.


Jennifer Pastore

Jennifer Pastore

Jennifer Pastore is a writer, editor, and translator. She was editor of Tokyo Art Beat's web magazine from 2015 to 2022. Her thoughts on the Japanese art scene can be found in publications like artscape Japan.