Contemporary art in Japan is a revelation. There is so much of it, it is engaging, and investment by the private sector is highly visible – none more so than at the Benesse Art Site.
This series of museums and outdoor art experiences are an aesthetic adventure from arrival to departure.
George Rickey – ’Four Lines’. Photo by Tadasu Yamamoto
The Art Site is located on a small island in the Seto Inland Sea near Okayama in western Japan. Yet despite its remoteness, a visit to Naoshima is unique and world class in its contemporary art, architectural and aesthetic experiences – all with a distinctly Japanese flavour in their focus on contemplation and immersion.
Benesse Holdings, an Okayama-based company that began as publishers in 1955, established its corporate collection in a series of purpose-built house museums on Naoshima from 1992.
The Chichu Art Museum opened in 2004 specifically to describe a confluence of art and architecture “to demonstrate the ideals of living well”.
The architect for the entire project is Tadao Ando, who is credited with the same status as the artists whose work is integrated into his buildings.
Both the Chichu and the dramatic maze-like Lee-Ufan Museum (opened in June 2010) are constructed largely underground, so as not to disturb the natural beauty and profile of the environment (with forest behind and sea in front).
However the buildings are naturally lit, the aesthetic spare but luxurious in terms of artistic opportunity.
Concrete and other natural materials create an environment that speaks to the ethic of the art program, “to create a grand view that presents people with time and space removed from everyday life to allow introspection and meditation on living well”.
The island has a permanent population of only 3,400 people. Essentially a fishing village, the less populated side of the island is dominated by the Benesse Art Site while several Art House Project sites in Naoshima’s village have been developed by artists such as Tatsuo Miyajima, Rei Naito and Hiroshi Sugimoto.
Artists including Yayoi Kusama, Jannis Kounellis, Cai Guo-Qiang, James Turrell, and Walter de Maria, and significant historical works by Claude Monet also grace the landscape and the walls of the Benesse Art Site.
The work is brought together in a rarely seen and triumphant collaboration of artist and architect and harnesses the extraordinary natural force of its site.