Good design for a better life on this world-class art island.
One of the most progressive, dynamic, and celebrated hotbeds of contemporary art in the world is a small fishing island sleeping on the waves of Japan’s Seto Inland Sea. That might sound like a contradiction, but it encapsulates the spirit of Naoshima: an immersive art experience that fuses stubborn opposites like nature and culture, and old and new, into perfect harmony.
This magical art retreat is a testament to Japan’s devotion to good design, and the conviction that good design can create a better life.
Benesse Corporation sponsors most of the work on the island, and their museums are world-class institutions with works by an impressive roster of artists, including Claude Monet, Jackson Pollock, and Walter de Maria. The Benesse House functions as both hotel and art gallery, letting you fulfill your wildest dreams of having a sleepover with Andy Warhol.
The nearby Chichu Art Museum is possibly the most outstanding structure in a place with no end to remarkable stuff. Built almost entirely underground, the museum relies on natural light for most of its limited but outstanding collection, subtly transforming the works into something new every time you look. Stroll down to the docks and you’ll come across Naoshima’s most famous sight: a polka-dotted pumpkin designed by mother of Japanese avant-garde art, Yayoi Kusama.
Thoughtfully designed cafes and restaurants are tucked away in the peaceful, narrow streets of Honmura. This is also the location of the Art House Project, which sees cutting-edge art pieces incorporated into unused, traditional Japanese homes in neighbourhoods still inhabited by local communities.
Near the main port of Miyanoura, I Love Yu is an exuberantly kitsch sento that’s a far cry from the simplicity and prudence of a traditional Japanese bath house. Bathing in these waters will have you turning your head every which way to take in the stained glass ceiling, vintage erotica, and realistic elephant statue.
The island is sometimes referred to as “Ando Island” after Takao Ando, the revered architect who designed most of the main buildings. Anyone with an interest in architecture must make a pilgrimage to see how his structures of concrete and steel play with light and other natural phenomena. They are custom-made to house some of the most enthralling, mysterious encounters with art ever. Your perspective will be bent in so many ways that it may never recover.