Going to Naoshima and Benesse House

To an art lovers and art enthusiasts the idea of going to an island dedicated to contemporary art and architecture is very appealing so we reserved a couple of days out from our recent trip to Tokyo. Only reachable by ferry Naoshima is an island located in Seto Inland Sea, the body of water between Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku, three of Japan’s four main islands.

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Stepping off at Miyanoura Port we where greeted by Yoyoi Kusama’s friendly black polka dot Pumpkin. As you can see from my pictures the weather presented everything in half light but I am reminded of the time when one glorious summer in 2009 all along the Thames at the Southbank in London the tree trunks had been clothed in the very same iconic Kusama polka dot signature which at that time was spilling out from her exhibition at the Hayward ‘Walking in my Mind’.

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Yoyoi Kusama is Japan’s most famous artist  and it seems fitting that her art works have become the symbol of a contemporary Naoshima. Once on the verge of being abandoned this island project for the arts was instigated by the Benesse Corporation and in 1980 Tadao Ando was given the task of designing Benesse House. This foresight and enterpreneurial spirit spearheaded the quest to revive and regenerate the island with art tourism and this has spread across other islands in the region since.  The Art Setouchi Trienniel will be held again in 2016 see here:
http://setouchi-artfest.jp/en/about

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Leaving the sea behind us we start on our climb up  to the Benesse House and Hotel and we stop to admire the view over the islands and the sea. So far we have not encountered many local people but here we do get talking to one local woman who tells us that she prefers the land to the sea and that she is on her way to collect wild vegetables from the hill sides.  For a moment I feel I want to go with her into the hills rather than enter behind the clean austere concrete walls of the art collection.
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I need not have worried because once inside the museum artist Yoshihiro Suda ‘Weeds’ (2002)  have made it into the museum too and we at first wonder if this is an artwork or if these were purely natural intruders into this clean pristine space.

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Of course it is all worth while having come to visit here . The Bennesse Foundation houses a very valuable and diverse collection of well known artists. I m delighted to reencounter Jonathan Borofsky Three Chattering Men ( 1986 ) they are still chattering. There are also several pieces by Richard Long Bruce Nauman and a favourite piece of mine by Donald Judd, and Cy Twombly , Jasper Johns to mention a few.

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Bruce Nauman ‘One Hundred Live and Die’ Sculpture flickers in all one hundred permutations of phrases including the word ‘live’ and even though I m not allowed to take photographs I sneak just one image and it catches on ‘Live and Die’ not ‘Fall and Live’ , or ‘Spit and Die’ !
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Architect Tadao Ando who was originally self taught uses nature and Zen for guidelines in his work, the use of natural light to illuminate artworks all figure here in Ando’s architecture. Intended is a spiritual space and where the empty space comes to the fore and is made visible so that and I quote , nature can be experienced physically through architecture.
It is at the  Chichu Art Museum that this becomes most visible. But also here at Benesse House in the semi outdoor space around the performance space architecture art and nature become symbiotic. Hiroshi Sugimoto’s photographic series of black and white images of sea and sky are sealed in acrylic frames and titled ‘Time Exposed’ (1980-97)  they align and come together on two exterior concrete walls where they converge into the open space offering the real view of the  beach and sea and sky in the distance. This play on art fused with concrete architecture and reality really works well here and an unexpected balance is achieved. This is a memorable experience and later after having climbed down to this very beach there as if as an afterthought is still one image of Sugimoto’s to be found hanging off a rock down by the beach completing the circle.
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