View of Seto Inland Sea from the coast of Naoshima.
Shinji Omaki’s Liminal Air: core (2010), cheerful rainbow-striped spindles, overlook the ferry terminal at Takamatsu port, where visitors board for Naoshima. Like many other works from the 2010 Setouchi International Arts Festival, Ohmaki’s sculpture remains on permanent display.
Yayoi Kusama’s Red Pumpkin (2006) greets arrivals at Naoshima ferry terminal. This piece was fabricated onsite.
Constructed in 2004, the Chichu Art Museum is a collaboration between architect Ando Tadao and artists James Turrell and Walter De Maria. In Japanese, chichu literally means “underground,” reflecting the fact that the bulk of this museum is buried in a mountaintop. Corridors and open courtyards connect the interior galleries, all of which are lit entirely by natural light. In addition to three breathtaking works by Turrell and one massive installation by De Maria, five paintings from Claude Monet’s “Water Lily” series are featured.
With the Lee Ufan Museum, Ando Tadao has paid subtle, minimalist homage to Korean-born artist Lee Ufan, a key figure in Japan’s Mono-ha movement. Opened in 2010, its concrete galleries complement a modest collection of Lee’s paintings and sculptures dating from the 1970s to the present. As with Chichu, Ando has positioned the structure half underground.
One of the earliest works to be installed at Benesse Art Site, Kazuo Katase’s fluid, zen-inspired aluminum bowl is part of a series whose prototype stands in the Alps. Another work from the series is in the collection of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art.
Three sedate, ponderous stainless steel forms, George Rickey’s Three Squares Vertical Diagonal (1972–98), sway in response to ocean winds.
Cai Guo-Qiang’s Cultural Melting Bath: Project for Naoshima (1998) is a very literal immersion in art. Limited to guests of Benesse House, visitors may enjoy a warm jacuzzi by the sea. Taifu rocks from China are arranged in accordance with feng shui principles. Five kinds of Chinese medicinal herbs saturate the bath water.
Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Time Exposed (1990–91) series comprises a dozen black and white seascapes on display at Benesse House, as well as two tantalizingly inaccessible pieces, one pictured here, each installed on opposite cliffs below the museum.
Shinro Ohtake’s stark, hole-riddled sculpture, Shipyard Works: Stern with Hole (1990), is embedded in the sands below Benesse House.
Shipyard Works: Cut Bow (1990), also by Ohtake, is an abstraction of a graceful hull half-buried in the beach.
Karel Appel’s Frog and Cat (1990) and, in the background, Dan Graham’s Cylinder Bisected by Plane (1995).
La Conversation (1991) is one of several small-scale Niki de Saint Phalle sculptures, which are scattered about the grounds near Benesse’s Terrace Restaurant.
Much of the art in and around Benesse House Park consists of the severe monochromatic photos by Hiroshi Sugimoto. Substrat 26 II is a welcome kick of color from Thomas Ruff’s computer-generated “Substrat” (2005) series, wherein digitized manga are layered into abstraction.
At the end of a small concrete pier jutting into the Seto Inland Sea, Yayoi Kusama’s squat Pumpkin (1994–2005) has become symbolic of the Naoshima experience.
The Art House Project in Honmura has inspired locals to enliven the town by hanging colorful, hand-made noren curtains in their doorways. To date, the Project comprises seven permanent art installations housed in restored traditional houses. The house names refer to the structures’ former owners or to some other aspect of their history, while artists’ works within these houses have distinct titles. The Project was initially launched in 1998 with a work by Tatsuo Miyajima and continues to evolve. Scheduled to open in Honmura in early 2013 is the Ando Tadao Museum, a hybrid structure of concrete interior space melded within the shell of a traditional minka house.
Go’o Shrine is perched atop a wooded hill overlooking the sea. Dating from the Edo era (1603–1868), the shrine was restored by photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto.
Hiroshi Sugimoto unites the concepts of “heaven” and “earth” with a glowing optical glass staircase, Appropriate Proportion (2002), that extends from the worship hall above, down into an ancient stone chamber deep beneath the sanctuary.
Once the office of a dentist (haisha), Ohtake has reassembled this century-old wooden structure as a tongue-in-cheek pastiche of sculptural flotsam and jetsam.
The two-story Miss Liberty Taking Liberties, inside the building dubbed Haisha, was installed in 2007.
Clear reminders of Ohtake’s earlier “Shipworks” installations at Benesse Art Site are apparent in a wall that incorporates boat hulls, and in the dark briny blues of the interior.
Three of Hiroshi Senju’s works are installed in this 100-year-old merchant’s house, called Ishibashi after the family who once lived there. The main building features Senju’s “Cliffs” series, fourteen paintings of an extended landscape in pigment on sliding paper screen doors.
In the separate storehouse of Ishibashi, The Falls (2006) has been on display since 2006. Senju’s acrylic on Japanese mulberry paper extends for 15 meters. Its creamy waterspray is reflected on the old wooden floor and shimmers in the unlit room.
Admission to Kinza is by prior reservation on specific days of the week. Visitors enter the installation one at a time for 15 minutes. The original exterior of this 100-year-old house was transformed to permit natural light to enter from beneath the walls, and this provides the only illumination for Rei Naito’s Being Given (2001), an exquisite interwoven assemblage that incorporates glass beads, stone, aluminum, thread, shells and mirrors.
The first of the Art House Projects, and perhaps the most memorable, Kadoya, is a restored 200-year-old house whose unlit interior segues into a dark pool of water, lit only by frenetic, ever-changing submerged LED counters. This is an installation by Tatsuya Miyajima, titled Sea of Time ’98 (1998). More than 100 Naoshima residents were involved in setting the speed of these counters to create Sea of Time.
In another room in Kadoya, sunlight powers and illuminates the random countdown of digits in Miyajima’s luminous Counter Window (1998).
Minamidera was designed by Ando Tadao on the site of an old temple. Visitors grope their way in total darkness to be seated before James Turrell’s installation Backside of the Moon (1999), which slowly reveals itself as a gentle indigo rectangle of pure light.
The preposterous Naoshima bath is not considered an Art House Project; it’s in a category all its own. Located near Naoshima’s ferry terminal, Ohtake’s I [heart] Yu (2009) puns the Japanese word for bath (yu). Ohtake’s cacophonous bathhouse is a deliberately goofy mosaic of nostalgia: fragments of neon signage and tile, boat hulls, fountains, photographs, old cinema posters, shells, plants (cacti predominate) and a penguin.
Inside is a spotless public bath that, though overpriced, pushes all the right sensory buttons. After over-investing in a glossy packet of brilliant-hued shampoo, soap and towel, bathers enter changing rooms that feature video displays built into benches. Walls are covered in kitchsy vintage advertising, B-movie publicity stills, odd tidbits of colorful sculpture and retro light fittings—all grounded by traditional Japanese wooden bathhouse lockers.
Masses of sparkling clean white tile in the bath gleam under Ohtake’s hand-painted skylight. Men’s and women’s baths are separated by a low wall mounted by a huge, very lifelike elephant, a theme revisited throughout the bath house. Unusual hexagonal mirrors line the walls where bathers shower before soaking. Here, each water faucet is a unique collage suspended in clear acrylic—gaudy, gem-like miniatures that are a mingling of beads, photos and other wistful detritus.