Japanese Exhibitions to See in 2021

Some of this year’s most anticipated art shows in Japan

In Features by Jennifer Pastore 2021-01-28

20th-century masters, a Heisei retrospective, and contemporary art frontrunners promise to be some of the high points of Japan’s year in art shows.

Francis Bacon: The Barry Joule Collection
Where: Museum of Modern Art, Hayama
When: 1/9–4/11 (Currently Closed)

For the first time in Japan, rare works by the Irish-born Surrealist Francis Bacon (1909–1992) from the collection of close acquaintance Barry Joule are on display. Oil paintings, drawings, photographs, and “secret” works – some said to have been destroyed – are among the 130 items on show. While this exhibition is currently closed due to COVID-19, there are plans for it to run at The Shoto Museum of Art in Tokyo (4/20–6/13).

Francis Bacon, ‘Working document 46 recto: Image of two boxers’ Around 1970s–1980s, ©The Barry Joule Collection

Francis Bacon, ‘X Album J9 verso – The Screaming Pope’ Late 1950s–early 1960s, ©The Barry Joule Collection

Masaya Chiba Exhibition
Where: Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery
When: 1/16–3/21

The first museum solo show for Masaya Chiba (b. 1980) spotlights his innovative practice of creating an “environment” for artworks such as papier-mâché and scrap-wood figures, which he arranges with other objects before painting the scene and presenting these paintings on homemade wooden stands. In addition to these works blurring the lines between painting and sculpture, Chiba also produces photography, video, sound art, and other genres of work drawing from various eras and traditions. This exhibition features his pet turtle, which roams around the gallery. Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery will also show other artists including Tsubasa Kato and Ryan Gander this year.

Masaya Chiba, ‘Peaceful Village’ (2019–2020) oil on canvas, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo Collection, ©Masaya Chiba / Courtesy of ShugoArts

Bubbles/Debris: Art of the Heisei Period 1989–2019
Where: Kyoto City Kyocera Museum of Art
When: 1/23–4/11

Through the key words “bubbles/debris,” this exhibition curated by art critic Noi Sawaragi looks at how artists interpreted the Heisei period (1989–2019), an era marked by economic instability and natural disasters. Featured avant-gardists include Chim↑Pom, Dommune, Parplume, contact Gonzo, and Osamu Kokufu.

Chim↑Pom, ‘Build-Burger’ 2016, Photo: Morita Kenji, Courtesy of the artist, ANOMALY, MUJIN-TO Production, Image for reference only.

Artists and the Disaster: Imagining the 10th Year
Where: Art Tower Mito
When: 2/20–5/9

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake. What has changed and what hasn’t? Art Tower Mito in Ibaraki Prefecture looks back on evolving artistic responses to the disaster, from documentation to creative reflection. Artists such as Hikaru Fujii, Natsumi Seo, and Tadasu Takamine present works in this show considering the role of imagination in anticipating and reckoning with calamity. Admission will be free on March 11.

Haruka Komori + Natsumi Seo, ‘Double layered town/Making a song to replace our positions’ (2019) ©Komori Haruka + Seo Natsumi

Mondrian: In Search of Pure Pictures
Where: Sompo Museum of Art
When: 3/23–6/6

Dutch painter Piet Mondrian (1872–1944), best known for his geometric blocks of primary colors, will have his first solo show in Tokyo in 23 years. Fifty works ranging from early landscapes to late abstract paintings by the De Stijl artist will be on loan from the Kunstmuseum Den Haag in the Netherlands, along with 20 other related works.

Piet Mondrian ‘Composition with large red plane, yellow, black, gray, and blue’ (1921) Oil on canvas, 59.5×59.5 cm, Kunstmuseum Den Haag

The Absence of Mark Manders and rhizomatiks_multiplex
Where: Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo
When: 3/20–6/20

MOT has two particularly exciting exhibitions coming up. One spotlights the Dutch sculptor Mark Manders, who sees himself as “a writer but with objects instead of words.” His giant clay sculptures of human figures appear like ancient ruins in a contemporary setting. Manders’ first solo exhibition in Japan features works shown in the country for the first time, including his “Mind Study” from the 2013 Venice Biennale.

In their first large-scale solo exhibition at a museum, the creative team Rhizomatiks, which has collaborated with renowned artists such as Björk, Perfume, and kyogen theater master Mansai Nomura, demonstrates its diverse approach to blending technology with artistic expression. A variety of projects are showcased in this hybrid online/offline exhibition of new works and archival materials.

Mark Manders studio view

Rhizomatiks Research×ELEVENPLAY×Kyle McDonald, discrete figures Special Edition, 6 Oct. 2019, Sapporo Cultural Art Theater hitaru, produced by Sapporo Cultural Art Theater hitaru, Rhizomatiks, ©kenzo kosuge

Isamu Noguchi: Ways of Discovery
Where: Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art
When: 4/24–8/29

This exhibition promises to shed light on the “path of discovery” taken by visionary designer Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988), whose his minimalist, abstract pieces resonant with nature remain popular. Displays will include his “Akari” lamps, a three-story installation of his works, and stone sculptures exhibited for the first time in Tokyo.

“Akari Cloud” Installation, Isamu Noguchi Foundation/Garden Museum (New York) installation view (2018–2019), Photo: Nicholas Knight, ©The Noguchi Museum /ARS

Another Energy: Power to Continue Challenging – 16 Women Artists from Around the World
Where: Mori Art Museum
When: 4/22–9/26

Mori Art Museum will reopen after renovations with this exhibition of female contemporary artists who started their careers between the 1950s and 1970s and continue to practice today. Ranging in age from 71 to 105, they hail from 14 different countries yet share “a determination to pursue their own distinctive career paths with unshakable conviction.” Genres on display include paintings, video, sculpture, large-scale installations, and performances. The participating artists are Etel Adnan, Phyllida Barlow, Anna Boghiguian, Miriam Cahn, Lili Dujourie, Anna Bella Geiger, Beatriz González, Carmen Herrera, Kim Soun-Gui, Suzanne Lacy, Kimiyo Mishima, Kazuko Miyamoto, Senga Nengudi, Nunung WS, Arpita Singh, and Robin White.

Arpita Singh, ‘My Lollipop City; Gemini Rising’ (2005), Oil on canvas, 152.4 x 213.3 cm, Collection: Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi

Senga Nengudi, ‘Studio Performance with R.S.V.P.’ (1976), Gelatin silver print, Courtesy: Sprüth Magers and Thomas Erben Gallery

Henri Matisse: Forms in Freedom
Where: The National Art Center, Tokyo
When: 9/15–12/13

The French painter Henri Matisse (1869–1954) was a giant of color-focused Fauvism at the beginning of the 20th century. Centered on works from the Musée Matisse collection, this exhibition is a rare chance to see the artist’s paper cutouts in Japan. The show also presents Matisse’s paintings, sculptures, sketches, prints, textiles, and objects, as well as his design for the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence.

Kaws Tokyo First
Where: Mori Arts Center Gallery
When: 7/16–10/11

Kaws, known for creating multicolored cartoon-like characters with Xes for eyes, will have his first major exhibition in Japan. It will feature around 70 paintings, sculptures, and products illuminating the artist’s unique production process and place in art history. Items come from the Kaws private collection, making this a must-see for fans. Homage will be paid to a smaller 2001 show at Shibuya Parco by the same title.

KAWS ACCOMPLICE , 2010 © KAWS, photograph by Jonty Wilde

KAWS © Nils Mueller for Wertical

100 Years of Mingei: The Folk Crafts Movement
Where: The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
When: 10/26–2/13, 2022

This exhibition marking the 60th anniversary of the death of movement founder Soetsu Yanagi looks back on a century of folk crafts with more than 400 exhibits, among them ceramics, textiles, woodwork, baskets and other items from collections across Japan. Contemporary materials such as magazines, books, photographs, and films will also reveal the evolving history of Mingei.

Bernard Leach, 'Soetsu Yanagi's Study' (1918)

Beveled jar with autumn flower motif, cobalt blue underglaze, Joseon Dynasty, early 18th century

Other notable 2021 exhibitions: Courbet and the Sea: Eyes on Nature in the 19th Century at Panasonic Shiodome Museum of Art (4/10–6/13); National Treasure: Frolicking Animals at Tokyo National Museum (4/13–5/30); Aino and Alvar Aalto: Shared Visions at Setagaya Art Museum (3/20–6/20); Viva Video! Shigeko Kubota at The Niigata Prefectural Museum of Modern Art (3/20–6/6; At Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo 11/13–2/23, 2020); Pipilotti Rist: Your Eye is My Island at The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto (4/6–6/13; Art Tower Mito dates TBD).

Jennifer Pastore

Jennifer Pastore. Jennifer Pastore is Tokyo Art Beat's editor. » See other writings

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