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Five unmissable contemporary art exhibitions in Japan in 2024

An eclectic cultural journey throughout Japan, in the footsteps of the most visionary contemporary artists.

by Nanban

Besides the usual exhibitions that offer new perspectives on modern Western art, which has always been a cornerstone of Japanese cultural offerings - this year we highlight among other spectacular retrospectives on Matisse at the National Art Center, Brancusi at the Artizon museum, De Chirico at Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and Louise Bourgeois at the Mori Art Museum - 2024 is full of truly unmissable exhibitions for those who find themselves in Japan.

We have selected five of them, a visit to which also constitutes an ideal itinerary to follow when moving away from the capital.

1. We begin in Niigata Prefecture, where starting July 13, 2024, the extraordinary Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial proudly celebrates its 25th anniversary, a quarter-century of artistic innovation that has defined the Japanese cultural landscape since 2000. In this ninth edition, in addition to the permanent works that have shaped the area over the years, new creations by over 70 talented artists are going to be added.

Among them, we highlight the installation "Wild Foam Foam" (野泡泡) by MAD Architects, a renowned architectural design studio based in Beijing, a work made up of giant bubbles that emerge from the structure of the "China House"; exhibition of the drawings of the unforgettable Ilya Kabakov, who recently passed away; the impressive outdoor installations through which Yukihisa Isobe recalls the memories of the villages that have now disappeared.

The charm of the Triennale is revealed both day and night, offering unique experiences such as the possibility of staying overnight in James Turrell's House of Light - which we have already written about - and eating at the evocative performance restaurant "Kamigo Clove Theatre Restaurant".

2. The guru of contemporary Japanese art, Takashi Murakami, a graduate in traditional Japanese painting, returns from February 3 to the eternal city of art, Kyoto, to compare himself with his ancient masters, who were a source of inspiration for him.

In the exhibition Murakami compares two enormous screen-works with the works of the masters Iwasa Matabei and Soga Shohaku, reinterpreting and expanding the visual vocabulary inherited from his predecessors.

The undisputed star is his version of the “Heian-kyō”, the name by which Kyoto was known until the mid-19th century, as well as the capital of ancient Japan for over a thousand years, protected by the four divine guardians (Seiryu, Byakko, Suzaku, Genbu). A tribute to the history of Kyoto which forms the the works’ backdrop, uniting the past with the present in a chromatic and conceptual rhapsody.

An exhibition in which you can travel back and forth in time, while exploring history and its influences on contemporary Japanese art.

3. In Okayama Prefecture, a new art festival, the Forest Festival of Arts, will open on September 28, 2024, allowing the curious to explore some off-the-beaten-path areas full of interest. Led by Yuko Hasegawa, director of the Museum of 21st Century Contemporary Art in Kanazawa, the project will embrace six fascinating locations, from Tsuyama Castle to the evocative Kagamino, Niimi and Okutsu, characterized by natural environments of extraordinary beauty, such as the majestic Gorge of Okutsu or the Makido Cave.

An eclectic list of artists will bring the festival to life, including the brilliant floral arranger Atsunobu Katagiri, the actor and dancer Mirai Moriyama and the acclaimed architect Kazuyo Sejima, as well as numerous international artists, who enrich the event with a global perspective.

4. Chiharu Shiota, a well-known Japanese artist currently living in Berlin, returns to his hometown, Osaka, with a large solo exhibition which will open on 14 September 2024 at the Nakanoshima Art Museum, on the islet of the same name in the city center. Celebrated for his exploration of complex eschatological themes, he weaves red and black threads creating archetypal forms. Through this artistic weaving, Shiota asks bold questions about existence and the meaning of life, leading viewers to think deeply about such universal enigmas.

5. The ideal journey finally ends in Yokohama, where the eighth edition of the Yokohama Triennale opens from 15 March 2024 to 9 June 2024. This eclectic urban art festival, hosted at the Yokohama Art Museum, the former branch of Daiichi Bank Yokohama and the beating heart of the city itself, comes with a compelling theme: “Wildflowers: living here and now”.

The inspiration for this edition comes from the words of Lu Xun, a famous Chinese writer whose work “Wild Herbs” (野草) is a hymn to resistance in times of change. In a time of global uncertainty, the Triennale focuses on the everyday heroism of those who, like wildflowers, are vulnerable but fight mightily for their survival.

There are 67 artists announced, of which 30 will make their debut in Japan. Among these Joal Nango, a Sami reindeer herder originally from Norway, amazes with his attention to the circulation of resources, creating ephemeral works using local materials; Lungiswa Gunta, from South Africa, sheds light on the themes of patriarchy and colonialism through her works, while the Ukraine’s Open Group describes the reality caused by the Russian invasion through works that are authentic testimonies of the current situation.

From Japan, artists such as SIDE CORE, Yoshinori Niwa and Rieko Shiga contribute with their unique perspective, offering a visual guidance to face difficult times with creativity and resilience.