Take a nondescript fishing island in Japan’s inland Seto Sea, build two world-class art galleries and a sleek art-themed ferry and commission a renowned Japanese artist to create outdoor sculptures. Build it and they will come is the ethos of art-loving Japanese billionaire Soichiro Fukutake who is the brainchild (and funding) behind this project. Turns out he was right. Nasoshima Island, known as Japan’s art island, is getting more and more popular and many people come to Japan just for the art island.
It’s well worth the slight hassle to get there. It is located around a forty minute ferry ride off the coast from Takamatsu, which a genial town on the lesser-trod island of Shikoku.
Once you’ve made it to Takamatsu the going is easy with the state-of-the-art ferry which deposits you at the first installation – a giant spotted pumpkin. This was imagined by Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama (thought to have influenced Andy Warhol) as a way to cope with her mental illness. I like that it is interactive – you can go inside – and I especially like that later in the day I saw that the spotted theme continued with the design of the local bus and hire cars.
Once on the island there is the afore-mentioned pumpkin themed bus, otherwise for a price there are local tours. I recommend a tour as they will organise tickets to the exhibitions and generally take the hassle out of it. (I went there as part of a longer tour of Japan with Inside Japan Tours http://www.insidejapantours.com, which I heartily recommend also.)
The highlight of Naoshima are the two art galleries. Chichu Art Museum, designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando is home to five Monet Waterlilies, showcased on tiny pearly white tiles meant to highlight the mauve, green and blue hues in Monet’s work. When I was in the Monet room, there were only a clutch of other people in the room, so I felt like I had the Monets to myself. There’s also a fascinating interactive art piece by James Turrell, and a sculptured room by Walter De Maria.
I didn’t spend as much time in the other gallery, Benesse Museum, but it seemed more along the lines of Hobart’s MONA, which has contemporary and unusual art. It’s forbidden to take photos inside both musuems so this snap of the view outside was taken from the café at Benesse Museum.
One of the things I liked the most about Naoshima is that the locals (fishermen and their families) had got into the arty spirit and were showcasing their own home-made art (often pumpkin themed) in their gardens and window ledges. It was lovely to see that locals seemed to like their art island as much as we did.