Neo Tropicalia

Most art shows will ask you to ponder deep things: The measure between form and metaphor, say, and their relationship to history, culture and the artistic self. Neo Tropicalia asks you to samba.

The Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (MOT), where it’s currently on show, has even provided capes to prance around in and music on headphones to get visitors in the mood. But on a recent visit there was nary a dancing art savant in sight. This is a shame, since the show, organized in-house by chief curator Yuko Hasegawa, is very much worth the shlepp.

The MOT is out of the way in more than one sense (Tokyo Governer Shintaro Ishihara has called it a public financial albatross), but there’s a reason for bringing a touch of Brazil to Tokyo’s Koto Ward. This is the Japan-Brazil Year of Exchange, and also the centennial year of Japanese immigration to Brazil.

Yet the show is no empty diplomatic exercise. “When Lives Become Form–Contemporary Brazilian Art: 1960-Present,” as the show is officially called, runs the gamut from fashion, design and architecture to found art and graffiti, surveyed through the works of 27 artists working in the southern hemisphere’s liveliest melting pot. Instead of marking an anniversary, it asks implicitly why Japan, with its material wealth, is in a funk, while Brazil–often working and living with less and until the mid-1980s a military dictatorship–can party.

The answer, according to Hasegawa, has something to do with digestion.

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Mr. Magritte

I got a surprise when this man walked right into the frame as I was sneakily photographing this couple drinking sake and munching on pork on skewers. Middle-aged men don’t usually stroll around in bowlers while puffing on pipes, and this dandy looked even even dandier for being in Shin-okubo — a slightly seedy immigrant neighborhood.

Actually I see more and more middle-aged dandies these days. If you are a man of a certain age who hasn’t given up on fashion your choices are either to dress like a younger (and richer) man — the celeb-styled choi-waru oyagi, or “naughty old man” look — or turn yourself into a bespoke character. I guess this guy chose the latter.