Nov 12 2012

Field Trip: Naoshima

by Marybeth Stock

The windswept island of Naoshima, isolated in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea, is an unlikely site for an arts center. But thanks to Soichiro Fukutake, president of the Benesse Corporation, Naoshima is the nucleus of Japan’s alternative contemporary arts scene. 

In 1998, when Naoshima was marked only by its languishing fishing industry, Fukutake established the Benesse House Museum. High on a rocky, isolated cliff overlooking the sea, Benesse House comprises two innovative, half-buried structures designed by Tadao Ando that combine an elegant modern museum with a boutique hotel. Many of the artworks in Benesse House Museum were commissioned by Fukutake. The art flows seamlessly from the museum itself into the airy hotel rooms. The permanent collection includes works by Jannis Kounellis, Kan Yasuda, Richard Long, Jennifer Bartlett, Yukinori Yanagi and Bruce Nauman, to name a few. In its first year of operation, Benesse launched its groundbreaking Art House Project in the nearby village of Honmura. This project invited select artists to integrate their own unique vision within the literal framework of traditional Japanese houses. 

Today, the Benesse Art Site has expanded to include a park—an amalgam of a hotel, a restaurant and a spa—together with a growing number of site-specific outdoor installations and sculptures. On a hilltop high above Benesse House are two newer Ando-designed buildings: the Chichu Art Museum (founded in 2004) and the Lee Ufan Museum (founded in 2010). The ongoing Art House Project is flourishing, and currently includes seven ingenious and charismatic works that redefine experiential art, thus underpinning Fukutake’s idea of establishing Naoshima as a vital, organic arts environment. 

This extraordinary vision also inspired the innovative 2010 Setouchi International Arts Festival, which was held on Naoshima and several of its neighboring islands. An expanded version of this festival will be held in 2013 as the international Setouchi Triennale, and will feature some 75 international artists. 

View of Seto Inland Sea from the coast of Naoshima.
View of Seto Inland Sea from the coast of Naoshima.