The traditional Torii gate on one of the beaches of Naoshima, Japan, near the Benesse House Museum on the south shore is quite traditional – in stark contrast to the modern art and architecture that has followed the development of the area around it into a modern art center
On our last day in Takamatsu, Japan, we walked from our ship to the ferry pier and caught a high-speed ferry to the island of Naoshima. Despite its diminutive size, this tranquil isle in the Seto Inland Sea draws nearly 800,000 art lovers each year. Naoshima boasts several exceptional art museums (such as Chichu Art Museum and Lee Ufan Museum) and the Benesse House, a combination of hotel and museum designed by acclaimed architect Tadao Ando. There is also the Ando Museum – a traditional Japanese country-style residence with a completely new (concrete) interior that holds the museum displays under the original wooden roof — that has excellent explanations and images of the various Ando projects on the island and a replica of his most famous project, the “Church of the Light”. Part of Kagawa Prefecture, the island with its Mediterranean atmosphere, sandy beaches and sunny weather, combined with a laid back, rural feel is a relaxing getaway from Japan’s large urban areas. Unfortunately, photography was not permitted in any of the museums, so we just have images of some of the outdoor art works and vistas. The Benesse Foundation web site, however, does contain many excellent images of the museum and artwork: benesse-artsite.jp
Entrance to the Lee Ufan Museum, celebrating art works by the Korean artist in a stunning building by architect Tadao Ando, Naoshima, Japan
The view from the hill between the Lee Ufan Museum and the Benesse House Museum with the sculpture “Time Exposed Norwegian Sea”, 1990 [black and yellow boats] by Hiroshi Sugimoto and a rock sculpture garden visible, Naoshima, Japan
A sculpture on one of the terraces of the Benesse House Museum, exterior to the museum’s restaurant where we had a delicious traditional Japanese lunch, Naoshima, Japan
A Bento box lunch served at the restaurant in the Benesse House Museum, Naoshima, Japan
A close up of some of the dishes in the Bento box lunch served at the restaurant in the Benesse House Museum, Naoshima, Japan
“Three Squares Vertical Diagonal”, 1972-1982, by George Rickey on the shoreline below the Benesse House Museum, Naoshima, Japan
“Cat”, 1991, by Niki de Saint Phalle in the Benesse House Park, Naoshima, Japan
“La Conversation”, 1991, with “Camel”, 1991, by Niki de Saint Phalle in the Benesse House Park, Naoshima, Japan
The most famous of all of the sculptures on Naoshima, Japan, is “Pumpkin”, 1994, by Yayoi Kusama – it is to the island what the Golden Gate Bridge is to San Francisco: the locale’s icon
We found this description of a day on the island to be very apropos:
“A remote island with stunning underground architecture.
A massive crypt lined with copper bars, a colossal sphere at its center.
Mazes made of stone that lead from one underground chamber to another, each differing in shape and size.
I didn’t expect my visit to the Japanese “art island” of Naoshima to remind me of the world of Myst, the computer game I played as a child.
It’s been more than a decade since I played the game, but that strange, beautifully desolate island and the eerie feeling of wandering around it alone have stayed with me.
Exploring Naoshima’s underground galleries, I was reminded again and again of Myst’s mysterious mechanical structures, right down to the discovery of ‘puzzles’ that visitors are meant to figure out on their own.
Some 3,000 islands dot the Seto Inland Sea of Japan, which separates Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu, three of the four main islands of Japan.
While many of those islands remain quiet and uninhabited, Naoshima has been turned into one of the most remarkable art and architecture destinations in the world.
Visitors often refer to it as “Ando Island,” since most of the structures on the island were designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando.
A museum designed by and dedicated to the renowned architect is also located on the island.
Naoshima’s transformation into a unique art project began in 1987, when Soichiro Fukutake, the chairman of Fukutake Publishing, now known as the Benesse Holdings, Inc., purchased the south side of the island.
Enlisted by Fukutake to supervise development on the southern portion of the island, Ando went to work over the next two decades designing a hotel complex and museums.
Adhering to his guiding principle of designing buildings that follow the natural forms of landscapes, Ando’s buildings on the island blend into or are built into the earth, some of them opening up to the sky.
‘Perfect balance of light, sound, space, color’
Some of Ando’s buildings became part of the Benesse Art Site Naoshima (BASN), which showcases major artworks acquired by the company over the past decades.
Since 1995, many of those pieces have been created specifically for the island.
That same year, the company established the Benesse Prize at the Venice Biennale, commissioning winners to create works specifically for BASN, which includes Naoshima and the nearby islands of Teshima and Inujima.
Just as the art has been designed for the island, the buildings that house the works have been designed to maximize the impact of the art.
Opened in 2004, the island’s Chichu Art Museum showcases its collection in spectacular and unexpected ways.
In the museum’s Claude Monet Space, a vast, pure white underground chamber is made up of hundreds of thousands of tiny stone tiles.
The dazzling while tiles perfectly show off the enormous blue and violet paintings on each wall. Visitors remove their shoes at the entrance and are given soft slippers.
When I visited, I was the only person in the room (not counting an attendant who stood in a corner as still as a sculpture).
The space gleams white from the natural light peering through a white stone ceiling.
It was the same everywhere I went on the island — quiet, stupefying displays of beauty and art with breathtaking sea or landscapes in the background. Visitor numbers are restricted throughout the exhibitions.
‘They’ve managed to create a perfect balance of light, sound, space, color and proportion, which makes the experience transcendent and unforgettable,’ says Rhea Karam, a New York-based fine arts photographer at work on a project inspired by Naoshima.
The same as I did, Karam found the Claude Monet Space a shock.
‘Growing up in Paris, I was very familiar with Monet’s work and accustomed to seeing it everywhere to the point that I wasn’t particularly interested when I heard he was displayed in the Chichu Art Museum’, says Karam.
‘The unbelievable, almost holistic presentation of Monet’s Water Lily paintings made me see them in a light I had never before experienced.'” – by Francis Cha, for CNN; www.cnn.com
As we approached the port of Takamatsu on the return ferry ride from Naoshima, we could see our ship docked along the city’s skyline