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Several years ago, Thomas Krens, director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, approached Mori Building Co, Tokyo, about setting up a Guggenheim branch in Tokyo. The Guggenheim has recently opened centers in Bilbao, Berlin and Las Vegas. The idea was, in the end, rejected, but it did inspire MBC, Tokyo, to set up its own museum.

Although this has left Guggenheim with no dedicated venue in Tokyo, this year they have brought a selection of their collection of modern art to Tokyo’s Bunkamura Museum in Shibuya. This, as Krens says, is a result of “Guggenheim’s international vision to reach the widest possible audience and to share its collections as much as is realistic.”

Modern art in the West came about, in part, through an unprecedented degree of contact with world exhibitions and imports of art from other cultures. You can detect the Japanese influence in Van Gogh’s farmer tramping through a field in “Landscape with Snow, Late February” (1888), on display here, which is drawn from the perspective of the farmer himself like the Japanese scenes of ordinary life that the artist studied so much.

The exhibition continues with a chronological roll call of pieces from the 20th century’s greatest and best; two of Picasso’s women are here: “Fernande With a Black Mantilla” (1905-06); and his portrait of the languid Marie-Therese Walter, his 17-year-old lover, in “Woman With Yellow Hair” (1931). One of the most surprising pieces in the exhibition is an early Piet Mondrian, “Summer Dunes, Zeeland,” (1910), painted in pure blue and gold, with the colors reversed, so that the “land” of the title really does resemble the “zee.”

This large canvas is hung in one of the bigger spaces in the museum, opposite Jackson Pollock’s “Circumcision, January 1946” and fellow New Yorker Helen Frankenthaler’s “Canal, 1963.” This room is an exception, not only because there is actually enough space to see the works easily, but because the curators have dared to hang pieces from different periods alongside one another, so creating connections between early painterly experiments and their effects on abstract art later in the century.

But while Krens speaks with pride of the sheer number of modern masters in the Guggenheim’s collections (57 Picassos and more than 100 Kandinskys for starters), you can’t help feeling that the selection here is a little meager. Why, for instance, does the exhibition finish with Andy Warhol, when the foundation prides itself on holding so many more contemporary works in its collection?

It doesn’t help that this show opens as the Mori Art Museum has just closed “Modern Means: Continuity and Change in Art, 1888 to the Present,” a large exhibition taken from New York’s Museum of Modern Art. That show boldly attempted to question our assumptions about modern art by finding themes such as “primal” through to “mutable” to link a great diversity of work.

The free hand of the curators, who included David Elliott, director of the Mori Art Museum, was in evidence throughout, which makes the Bunkamura offering feel rather like curating by numbers. But go, if only to be reminded of the way in which, in the 20th century, artists were “thinking about one another’s cultures,” as Krens puts it, in ways in which it would have been impossible to do before.

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