TOPArt & CultureThe Biggest Art Exhibitions Opening in Tokyo in 2021

The Biggest Art Exhibitions Opening in Tokyo in 2021

From an exploration of Japan's foremost fashion trends to a spotlight on women creatives over 70, 2021 brings several fantastic exhibitions to inspire you to visit museums when we can again

By Anna Maude

It’s January and it’s cold, the holidays are over and another state of emergency has been called in Tokyo and ten other prefectures. Things may be looking a bit bleak right now, but there are exciting cultural events afoot. We could all do with something to look forward to, so here are some of the most exciting exhibitions coming to Tokyo in 2021.

Fashion in Japan: 1945-2020 (National Art Centre) 

Walking around Tokyo, it is clear that this is a city that loves fashion. Different districts have their unique style, and just about anything goes, from impeccably tailored suits and interestingly angular dresses that fall just so, to full-on crazy cosplay. This exhibition takes an in-depth look at western-style fashion development in Japan, especially as it emerged in the post-war years, and how Japan developed its unique sartorial culture. It will consider fashion trends from the perspective of both the designers and the people who bought and wore the clothes on the streets, and aims to provide social and historical context to Japan’s sartorial development. The first of its kind, this exhibition will definitely be worth a look. 

When: June 9-September 6, 2021
Where: The National Art Centre Tokyo, 7-22-2 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 

Phyllida Barlow, Installation view: dock, Duveen Galleries, Tate Britain, London, 2014
Courtesy: Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Alex Delanne * Referential image

Another Energy: Power to Continue Challenging — 16 Women Artists from around the World (Mori Art Museum) 

Challenging times require inner strength, and this exhibition promises to be a great source of inspiration for finding it. The #metoo movement has brought worldwide focus to aspects of gender inequality, and it is just one in a number of increasingly influential worldwide movements to right inequalities such as race, ethnicity and sexual orientation. As a result, this feels like a timely and important exhibition. “Another Energy” focuses on 16 female artists, all over 70, from 14 different countries. Their art and backgrounds might be incredibly diverse, but they all share a common goal: to forge their own path and develop their art according to their own values. While this might not seem like a radical notion in today’s society, 50 years ago, the world was very different. It takes considerable strength to stand up for your own convictions in a world that doesn’t want to listen, and the artists showcased in this exhibition have done just that. 

Read more about the exhibition and other developments at Mori Art Museum during the pandemic in our interview with Mami Kataoka, the museum’s new Director, here

When: April 22-September 26, 2021
Where: Mori Art Museum, Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, 6-10-1 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo

The Tokugawa Peony Garden at Ochiai, Twelve Scenes of Tokyo  1928 Woodcut, paper 25.0×37.2cm

Yoshida Hiroshi: Commemorating the 70th Anniversary of His Death  (Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum) 

Hiroshi Yoshida was a master of the modern Japanese woodblock print, or shin-hanga, fusing western-style naturalism with traditional Japanese woodblock techniques to create beautiful prints that tapped into the incredible natural environments of both Japan and the countries in which he traveled. He used his experience traveling the world and studying western art to develop unique and sophisticated printing techniques that enabled him to put on paper the intricacies of subtle shifts in nature, such as changing light on the mountains or melting snow. While he was best known for his landscapes, his prints also bring a human touch, with figures and buildings that sit comfortably in their landscapes. His prints are clearly influenced by western art movements such as impressionism and expressionism, but he maintained a firm footing in traditional Japanese printing techniques throughout his career. This exhibition will show prints from every stage of his development, and will also include woodblocks and sketchbooks.

When: January 26-March 28, 2021
Where: Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, 8-36 Ueno-Park, Taito-ku, Tokyo 

Settai Komura “Irezumi” 1935, Museum of Modern Art Saitama. 小村雪岱《刺青(邦枝完二「お傳地獄」挿絵原画(『名作挿画全集』のための))》昭和10年、埼玉県立近代美術館、前期展示(3月23日~4月18日)

Ayashii: Decadent and Grotesque Images of Beauty in Modern Japanese Art  (The National Museum of Modern Art Tokyo) 

The introduction of western culture to Japan in the Meiji period touched all aspects of Japanese life and brought intense and swift social changes. Art in Japan was similarly affected, and this exhibition explores how such rapid social change impacted depictions of beauty in Japanese art. In particular, it looks at how hidden desires that might previously have remained repressed came to the fore in art in the form of ‘suspicious’ women, ugly or grotesque figures and in fantasy creatures and scenarios. The exhibition suggests that one-way people dealt with a changing world was to revel in the ‘bizarre, horrific and erotic’. While these images were shunned by some parts of the art world, they became very popular and flourished, particularly in book illustrations and magazines. The exhibition promises to be a fascinating exploration of how the anxiety brought about by sudden and intense social change can find a release in art, and perhaps what this can tell us about our own hidden desires.

When: March 23 – May 16, 2021
Where: The National Museum of Modern Art Tokyo, 3-1 Kitanomaru-koen, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo


Top image: From “Ayashii: Decadent and Grotesque Images of Beauty in Modern Japanese Art.” Kitano Tsunetomi “Michiyuki” circa 1913.  Taro Fukutomi collection.