Naoshima, a small island on the north side of Shikoku, Japan, has become, since the late 1980s, a little publicized modern art wonderland hidden among the many thousands of islands of Japan. In a whirlwind trip including four trains, a bus and a ferry, we made our way from Tokyo to a fog-enveloped Naoshima in just under seven hours, just in time to see the sunset from our room at the Benesse House. The Benesse House is a beautiful melding of hotel, modern art and architecture museum, and outdoor seaside park. The three museums inside the Benesse House complex are amazingly curated with no shortage of pieces by big-name artists like Jasper Johns, David Hockney, Robert Rauschenberg, Donald Judd, Gerhard Richter, and an entire Lee Ufan museum, which would have been enough of a reason to make the trek all the way to Naoshima from Paris in itself. But perhaps even more amazing are the outdoor sculptures and art pieces, like the enormous Yayoi Kusama polka-dotted pumpkins on the pier in the bay, or Hiroshi Sugimo's landscape photograph perfectly framed on the side of an island cliff, that add to the quiet profundity and mystique of this magical island.
Aside from the Benesse House museum and the Lee Ufan museum, also inside the Benesse House's large complex is the Chichu Art Museum built into the ground by architect Tadao Ando, built so as not to disrupt the landscape. This museum includes an incredible room dedicated to Claude Monet's Water Lilies, where natural light seeps into the underground room through a hidden hole in the ceiling and is then reflected around the perfectly white walls and white stone floor as the only source of illumination with which to view Monet's massive paintings. Another room was turned into an amazing geometric art space by Walter De Maria, with a giant marble in the middle of a staircase surrounded by golden wooden columns, again with only natural light coming through the ceiling. James Turrell has three pieces installed in this museum as well, with his playful yet indescribably mind-boggling interactive explorations of light.
The island's town is a quick bus or bike ride away from the museums, and has many traditional Japanese houses, temples and Shinto shrines left intact or restored from the Edo period. And of course, in true Naoshima-style, some of these old buildings have been restored into miniature art spaces themselves, as part of Naoshima's Art House Project, combining art spaces with historical Japanese cultural sites. Inside some of the houses are pieces by artists including James Turrell, Tatsuo Miyajima, and Yoshihiro Suda, often built into the house as if it had been there all along, surrounded by tatami mats and old wooden bathtubs.
With only one night to spend in Naoshima our trip in December was a bit of a rush. It would be so easy to spend days and days taking in all the scenery, art and ancient Japanese magic to be seen and felt and experienced in Naoshima. But on our way to the ferry, we did manage to find 45 minutes to stop and relax at the sento bathhouse, "I♥湯" [I love hot water bath], after walking through the town and the Art House Project. Everything in the bathhouse, from the bathtub to the toilet to the tiles, was designed by artist Shinro Ohtake and offers yet another way to experience the art of Naoshima, and is yet another testament to the ingenious way the worlds of modern art and ancient and modern Japan have been seamlessly woven together on this peaceful little ten-square kilometer island in the pacific ocean.
It's Hiroshi Sugimo's "Time Exposed", a photograph hung on the side of the cliff!
Humberto inside of Shinro Ohtake's "Shipyard Works: Stern with Hole".
The view from the hilltop.
Heading from the shrine into town.
At the sento bathhouse "I♥湯".
The bathhouse even has a builtin greenhouse!
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