Naoshima & Teshima | Japanese Art Islands


Art spread on the island

Trying to describe a visit to the Japanese art islands of Naoshima and Teshima is quite hard. It’s a happy experience, and everybody knows that describing happiness is never easy.  Even if someone says that Disneyland is the happiest place on earth–someone else affirms that it is Ikea–I’d like to hazard a guess: Naoshima and the Setouchi islands are a very beautiful  and heavenly and happy place.

Located in the Seto Inland Sea, south of Kyoto, this archipelago consists of many scattered islands, some of which are nowadays a temple of contemporary art and architecture. The most important and distinguish thing is that these places offer a very special experience, not only for art experts, but for everybody given that art and nature here are strictly intertwined.

Naoshima is organized in three artistic areas: Miyanoura area, around the ferry terminal, where a Yayoi Kusama red pumpkin welcomes you, along with the Naoshima Bath, an art facility created by artist Shinro Ohtake where visitors can actually take a bath; the Miyanoura Gallery 6 [with irregular opening]; and the new Naoshima Pavillion, a work by architect Sou Fujimoto to give the archipelago another small artistic island.

Moving to east stands the Honmura district with the fascinating Ando Museum, to discover the career of the gifted Japanese architect, and the absolutely brilliant Art House Project: this long-ago traditional area, the center of social life, is home to houses built more than 400-years ago, some of them now empty, and  in the . The Art House Project involves the restoration of vacant houses scattered about residential areas turning them into artworks, weaving in history and memories of the period when the buildings were lived in and used. Strolling and going from one to another house, you cross the everyday life unfolds around you, creating an interaction between visitors and local residents, interweaving the community, the local people’s lives, time, history and works of art. It began in 1998 and currently comprises seven locations:

º Kadoya, 1998, a 200-year old house, renovation by Tatsuo Miyajima;

º Minamidera, 1999 by Tadao Ando and James Turrell, a former temple where now visitors will experience the process of slowly finding light;

º Kinza, 2001, by Rei Naito;

º Go’o Shrine, 2002, by Hiroshi Sugimoto, the renovation of an existing shrine from the Edo period, consisting of two parts, over and under ground;

º Ishibashi, 2006, by Hiroshi Senju that restored a former salt-making trader family house;

º Gokaisho, 2006, by Yoshihiro Suda, a gathering place to play the game of go;

º Haisha, 2006, by Shinro Ohtake, once the home and studio of a local dentist.



Benesse House Area

The southern part of the island houses the Benesse House area, with its garden and the outdoor sculptures, including the popular–now the inarguable symbol of the island– Yayoi Kusama’s yellow Pumpkin [1994]. Walking from here through the garden and along the coastline, you can reach the Benesse House Museum that integrates a hotel and a museum all together in the same building designed by Tadao Ando. Opened in 1992 the Benesse House Museum is really a magic place where nature, art, and architecture come together in a physical experience, a residence to numerous site-specific works created for the natural environs of Naoshima, or inspired by the architectural spaces they inhabit. Last but not least, the Benesse House Museum is built on a hill overlooking the Seto Inland Sea.

The Benesse House area houses also the Lee Ufan Museum, collecting works by artist Lee Ufan, and the Chichu Art Museum, a masterpiece by Tadao Ando, where you can’t take picture, primarily to enjoy the site in all its amazing and suggestive beauty, without distracting with that umpteenth selfie.The Chichu Art Museum present very few works but each of them has a dedicated hall, a sort of rethinking of the relationship between art and visitor. Nature has a preeminent importance in this project, in fact the museum is built mostly underground to avoid affecting the natural landscape but the light is a constant presence, constantly changing.



If activities on Naoshima started in 1989 thanks to the Benesse Holding Inc., Teshima can be considered the little sister. About 20-minutes-distance by ferry, Teshima island got involved in the Setouchi International Art Festival for many years when finally in 2010 the Teshima Art Museum opened its doors. This is the main landmark on the island, once again no-photos-please to experience once more a truly connection between nature and architecture and art.

The museum consists of just three small structures inside a park: the ticket office, the museum and the cafeteria-gift shop. Immerse yourself in the tranquility of this unique place, open your mind and live in harmony this memorable experience.

If you’re afraid to forget your adventure on Teshima, there’s another art-experience for you, that you can also record: it’s Les Archives du Cœur, by French artist Christian Boltanski. A beach house that permanently collects and hosts the recordings of the heartbeats of people throughout the world. Christian Boltanski has been recording these heartbeats since 2008 from thousands of people who have previously visited the traveling exhibition. In a small dark room are “on display” some of the heartbeats, in the archive room you can access to and listen every recording, and finally it’s possible to record your own heart beat here, your existence in that very moment will last forever.

Many more site-specific installations are on Teshima, a full day here is a day well-spent. The third little sister is the Inujima island, and maybe I’ll be back here soon for the next episode about the small island and its art attractions. In 2019 the Setouchi Triennale will take place all around the archipelago, the first few information look promising: the triennale will take place on 12 islands and 2 ports and be divided into 3 time sessions. So it may be the perfect moment to visit the Japanese islands.


© all the pictures Margherita Visentini

Published on Polpettas Magazine

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