Naoshima: Japan’s hidden island of surreal Art

 Finding Art and Adventure on Japan’s Naoshima Island


Once a fishing town in decline, Naoshima island is now a thriving Contemporary Art Hub where architecture, nature and art come together to create a surreal landscape. The majority of Naoshima’s art was installed and curated by the Benesse Corporation, which oversees art museums, installations and sculptures both on Naoshima and on neighbouring islands.

Benesse’s museums were designed by the well known Japanese minimal architect Ando Tadao that with his essential shapes created the perfect environment to house the artworks. The island also serves as the main venue of the Setouchi Triennale Art Festival, where about 100 new artworks by artists from Japan and overseas are exhibited on the twelve islands and around the ports of Takamatsu and Uno.

Chichu Art Museum was constructed in 2004 as a site rethinking the relationship between nature and people. The museum was built mostly underground to avoid affecting the beautiful natural scenery of the Seto Inland sea. Artworks by Claude Monet, James Turrell, and Walter De Maria are on permanent display in this building designed by Tadao Ando. Despite being primarily subterranean, the museum lets in an abundance of natural light that changes the appearance of the artworks and the ambience of the space itself with the passage of time, throughout the day and all along the four seasons of the year.

Taking form as the artists and architect bounced ideas off each other, the museum in its entirety can be seen as a very large site-specific artwork.

 

In many respects Benesse House is considered to be the heart of Naoshima. Sitting on the southern coast of Naoshima Island, the museum and resort style hotel is the central point of Benesse’s art facilities. The complex includes a museum, oval, park and beach; all of which were artfully designed by the world renowned self-taught architect Tadao Ando, who was inspired by the area’s natural surroundings. The art museum sits atop a hill overlooking the Naoshima coast, and although the view is incredible, it’s what’s inside the museum walls that really reflect the island’s natural beauty.

 

Featuring a broad selection of work by both Japanese and international artists, the Benesse museum is home to a permanent collection of works that are exclusive to the space. The curators have also commissioned a number of site-specific installations inspired by the area. Here, the line between architecture, art and nature are blurred – crafting a fully immersive art experience unique to Naoshima. Perhaps the most famous piece is Yayoi Kusama’s 1994 installation, Pumpkin, a glowing larger-than-life installation that sits on the edge of the pier overlooking the surrounding ocean.