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JAPAN : Unknown Naoshima Island in the 1990s, Became Emblematic of Contemporary Art

Yayoi Kusama's 'Pumpkin' - Naoshima Island

Naoshima island is home to a community with its own culture, history and identity.

In the late 1980s, Japanese entrepreneur Soichiro Fukutake, head of the Benesse corporation, initiated the project on Naoshima, pursuing his late father’s dream of creating a space for children there. The site eventually became an expansive art project now known as Benesse Art Site Naoshima, which also extends to the neighbouring islands Teshima and Inujima, with art and architecture taking prime position. With the help of architect Tadao Ando, the island has now become Japan’s artistic capital. Many of the pieces that have been exhibited here have since achieved iconic status, notably Yayoi Kusama‘s Pumpkin.

Naoshima Island is known for its many contemporary art museums.

The Chichu Art Museum (literally, "in the earth") houses a number of site-specific installations by James Turrell, Walter De Maria, and paintings by Claude Monet. Designed by Tadao Ando, it is located on one of the highest points of the island, and various exhibits and facets of the museum's architecture take advantage of its commanding view. Another contemporary museum is Benesse House, also by Ando. Another is the Naoshima Fukutake Art Museum, with an outdoor sculpture garden, and a third is the James Bond museum, inspired by the island's use as one of the settings for the 2002. There are also two other museums on the island, one dedicated to Lee Ufan, the acclaimed Korean artist who was the leading figure of 1970s conceptual and minimal art, as well as the Ando Museum erected in 2013, devoted to the practices of this figure, whose architectural style influenced both the Japanese and the global architectural currents.

The museums and beauty of the island draw many tourists, whose visits help support the local economy. However, it is Mitsubishi Materials, loosely affiliated with other Japanese companies of the Mitsubishi name, that dominates industry on the island, as Naoshima has been the site of massive refining by Mitsubishi since 1917.

The Benesse Art Site Naoshima comprises numerous museums, and other art-related projects spread over three islands in the Seto Inland Sea: Naoshima, Inujima and Teshima. Each island is home to a community with its own culture, history and identity. The Art House Project was launched in 1998 as an ongoing art project based on the reconstruction and recontextualization of the Japanese tradition and aesthetics. By bringing back the old glory to traditional architecture and by inserting video projections and installations, these houses became specific contemporary site specifics, artworks for themselves. Seven revitalized objects hold the works made by Tatsuo Miyajima, James Turrel, Rei Naito, and a few others.

The island is also the site of Benesse House, a gem of modernist architecture and the only hotel found there, which is also a museum. With temples, traditional houses, vegetable patches and coastal paths, the island has managed to retain its original charm.

Naoshima, the Island of Contemporary Art On this site, artwork is found right along the road and the galleries themselves boast impressive architecture, designed by Tadao Ando. A cross between Buddhist simplicity and Modernist brutalism, from an aerial view Chichu looks like a series of weirdly-shaped concrete pits cut into a gently sloping, grassy hill.

The first building erected on Naoshima was the Benesse House opened in 1992. This facility, functioning as a museum and a hotel, is based on the concept of the symbiosis of nature, architecture, and art. The museum building was designed by Tadao Ando and is located on a plateau on the south side of the island. The exhibited works are made specifically for the site and are corresponding to the natural surroundings and Ando’s architecture, and they spread across the exhibition space all over the coastline and the forest surrounding the museum. The visitors can experience incredible artworks and projects by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Sam Francis, Cy Twombly, Robert Rauschenberg, Richard Long, Yves Klein, Jannis Kounellis, Niki de Saint Phalle and others.

In the Chichu Art Museum, the works of the celebrated French Impressionist Claude Monet and two established contemporary artists, James Turrell and Walter de Maria are on permanent display. While Monet’s iconic Waterlilies are soaked in natural light in a room specially fitted for the paintings, De Maria’s twenty seven wooden sculptures with gold leaf, part of the installation Time / Timeless /No Time, Time / Timeless /No Time, take the the entrance hall, while Turrell’s three light installations are located in spaces specially adapted for them.

The Setouchi Triennale is conceived by Kagawa Prefecture’s Setouchi Triennale Executive Committee, while the Benesse Art Site is one of its founding organizations and with a concise agenda rooted in the history and character of the region. As an art festival, it is happening on all three islands, as well as other islands in the Setouchi region. The first edition took place in 2010.

Galleries are gatherings of art organised according to the principles of the people who set them up. More than theatres or concert halls, where rapid changes in repertoire create a spirit of flux, they rarely lose a connection with their founders’ underlying philosophy.


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