Back to Naoshima

I had visited Naoshima during the 2013 Setouchi Triennale, but I was only there for an afternoon because of how the ferry timetable worked out for us.  We had cycled over to the Honmura Art House Project and then to the Benesse House Museum to see the outdoor artworks.  I wanted to go back and see the other attractions attractions on the island, so I treated myself to an overnight stay at the Benesse House!IMG_7566IMG_7567After checking in, the first thing I did was to go to the sento I Love Yu 「I♥湯」(a pun on the Japanese word for hot water yu), a public bathhouse that’s also an art installation.  It’s wonderfully kitschy – there are collages everywhere and in the changing rooms there is footage of ama divers, women who would strip down to a loin cloth and a rope connecting them to a boat as they dived for pearls or shellfish.

Near the sento was another unique little spot – the 007 Museum, which is dedicated to the 2002 James Bond novel The Man with the Red Tattoo, in the hopes that it will someday be made into a film.  There is Bond book and film paraphenalia and a huge red heart made by some local art students.  A little surreal.IMG_7570IMG_7569I didn’t stop at Honmura Village, but used the Benesse House shuttle bus to travel between Miyanoura for the sento and 007 museum, and the Benesse House Museum area.  The museums are not far from each other, and along the way you are constantly surprised by works of art.  The weather was beautiful, like a cool mediterranean summer, and it was really peaceful, being midweek; the only other visitors I saw were small groups of Chinese tourists and pairs of Japanese or foreign arty-looking young people.IMG_7605IMG_7606IMG_7610IMG_7599IMG_7593The only disappointment of my trip was the Lee Ufan Museum.  As with the Benesse Museum and Chichu Art Museum, I went there with an open mind and no particular knowledge about the artist. Lee was born in Korea and lived in Japan from the 1950s, having an important involvement in the Japanese art scene in the ’60s.  His paintings mainly consist of single large blue or black brush strokes, and his sculptures often use rocks and steel plates arranged together.  I didn’t find anything objectionable about his art, although it didn’t speak to me personally, and it was housed in a Tadao Ando-designed museum, but afterwards I felt the ¥1,030 I paid for admission would have been better spent elsewhere.  There were only three not-very-large rooms with a few paintings and sculptures, and although one of them was a Meditation Room where you take off your shoes to enter the white room with three large square brush-strokes painted directly onto the walls, I didn’t find the museum particularly meditative.  Unless you are already a fan of his work, I would recommend just entering as far as the ticket office so you can walk through the concrete passage and get a feel of the architecture, but then save your money for the ¥2,060 admission to the Chichu Art Museum up the road, which is well worth the price of admission, with incredible architectural spaces designed by Tadao Ando, monumental contemporary art by Walter De Maria and James Turrell, and classic paintings by Claude Monet.IMG_7619Accommodation is not usually something I will spend much money on,  but I made an exception on this trip because I’ve wanted to stay at the Benesse House since I read about this writer’s experience there when the museum had closed for the evening.  There are four different buildings you can stay in – Oval, Museum, Beach or Park.  I stayed at the Park, which was very luxurious in its simplicity, and when I arrived in the afternoon, I just sat for a while with the balcony door open, looking out at the artworks on the lawn and listening to the sound of the sea.IMG_7565Although it can be an expensive visit to the island if you go to all the museums, stay at the hotel and eat at the hotel’s haute-cuisine restaurants (I didn’t, but I imagine that would be an amazing culinary experience), but it doesn’t have to be an extravagant trip.  There are so many free or inexpensive art installations scattered around the island, you can stay at local guesthouses or come for the day from nearby Takamatsu or Uno, and the beauty of the island itself is free.
IMG_7588I visited the Benesse Museum which was about a five minute walk up the hill and I wandered around the quiet exhibits as it gradually got darker and when I walked back, I passed the outdoor artworks lit up for the night.IMG_7586IMG_7585IMG_7580

Setouchi Art Festival

Jenny and I are art buddies, as we both studied History of Art in university, so I knew that we had to visit Naoshima, a small island on the Seto Inland Sea between Shikoku and Honshu. It was turned from a rural backwater into the setting of world-class contemporary art by the Benesse Corporation, the Japanese company that owns Berlitz Language Schools. There are permanent works on Naoshima and the surrounding islands, but this year the Setouchi Triennale Art Festival is on as well, which means more art and better transport to the islands. Some works are free to view, some cost ¥300 and the museums cost ¥1000, but for the festival you can buy passports for one or three seasons (Spring, Summer, Autumn) which allows you to visit most of them for free once, and gives you discounted entry to others. I bought a two-day ferry pass for ¥4000, and the three season passport, ¥5000, because I knew I wouldn`t get to see all that I wanted to and it wouldn`t be difficult to get the train down from Kanazawa for a weekend during the Summer and Autumn. What`s great about the passport too is that you can get stamps at each of the works, which is very addictive. We felt like we were doing the art version of our temple pilgrimage.


After our temple walk in Tokushima, we spent the night in Takamatsu and the next day took a ferry to Inujima, a tiny island, very close to Honshu. In the early 20th century a copper refinery was built on the island to try to keep industrial pollution away from the big cities in Honshu, but it closed down not long after and the population steadily dwindled until it reached the fifty people that currently live there today. The smeltery was turned into a museum that uses solar energy and natural air currents to regulate the internal conditions of the building with minimal impact on the environment. The museum contains artwork by Yukinori Yanagi based on the motif of Yukio Mishima, a very interesting writer in post-war Japan who committed ritual suicide in 1970 after a failed coup d`etat. I read his book Spring Snow while we were traveling around, and he was used in this setting because he had been wary of the effects of modernization on Japan. The picture above shows one of the works which is a large glass box containing his final speech before his suicide, deconstructed to form vertical lines of gold characters suspended from the top.


Because Inujima is so small we were able to see everything on it in the morning before getting a ferry on to Teshima, a bigger hillier island. The guidebooks recommended renting electric bicycles for exploring the island but when we arrived they were all rented out so we got the bus to the Teshima Art Museum, which is a bit of a misnomer as it is really just one art space that is the art work. It`s such a simple design yet the atmosphere is quite amazing inside and little streams of water flow around the concrete floor. My desription doesn`t do it justice at all, but I would recommend it as one of the most serene architectural spaces I have experienced.

We wanted to get to our accomodation before it got dark because there were no lights on the back road that led to it, but there was so much else we wanted to see on Teshima that we decided to rent bicycles in the morning and explore the island before getting the ferry to Naoshima. The day we arrived had been rather overcast and threatened rain, but in the morning the weather was gorgeous and the view of the island and the surrounding sea was just stunning. The electric bikes were a godsend too because the hills are really steep and it just means you can press a button to give your pedals an extra push.


Despite studying history of art I don`t really know anything about contemporary art, in fact, it`s because of this that I feel very ignorant about it because I lack the hindsight that`s needed to analyse art historically. But I do love going to see contemporary art because a lot of the time its fun, interactive, multimedial and it allows you to experience things in a new way. It`s like going to an intellectual funhouse.


Because the Teshima Art Museum was closed on Tuesdays, the direct ferries weren`t running to Naoshima so we had to get a ferry to Uno Port on Honshu and then another to Naoshima. Our stop at Uno port allowed us to see a few other works like one of Yayoi Kusuma`s pumpkins (above), this one you could get into and look out through the spots, and this fish (below) that was made out of rubbish.


When we finally did make it to Naoshima it was getting late, so we rented ordinary bikes and cycled across to the Honmura Art House Project where works of art were installed in old houses in the village. It felt like a treasure hunt because we were trying to get to see as many works before they closed at 4 o`clock. Afterwards we cycled down to the Benesse House, the original contemporary art museum on the island, but we didn`t go in because we wouldn`t have had much time before going back to return the rental bicycles. But our trip wouldn`t have been complete without seeing this, another of Yayoi Kusuma`s pumpkins:


Private sponsorship seems to play a big part in the Arts in Japan, and many great art museums were founded and funded by private companies. In my last post I looked at the Otsuka Museum in Tokushima prefecture, and some of the best museums I have been to are private institutions. The Mori Museum in Tokyo was created by a property developer and it holds temporary exhibitions ranging from contemporary artists to ukiyo-e, and the Miho Museum near Kyoto houses the collection of Asian and Western antiques belonging to an heiress of the textile industry in a stunning building designed by I.M. Pei (who designed the pyramid at the Louvre). Last year when I went to Tokyo for Golden Week I went to the Mitsubishi Ichiokan Museum, owned by the Mitsubishi Company, and the National Museum of Western Art, which although it is public institution, its collection was amassed by an industrial magnate before he went bankrupt.

Art has always been a sign of wealth and class, and private institutions really know how to publicize their art because in essence they are selling themselves. There is a big difference in the image and administration of publicly and privately funded institutions, and I would need to look into it more to say which I think is the best way to run a cultural institution. The biggest controversy currently in the museum world is the creation of the Louvre brand (like the private Guggenheim brand) which has been franchised to the city of Abu Dhabi. It`s due to open in 2015 though at present there is an exhibition of its permanent collection, and also there are plans to open another Guggenheim Museum in the city in 2017. Exciting times for art in the Middle East.