We woke up at 430 am in Osaka , got on a subway, to a bus, to a train, to a train, to a bullet train, to a train, to a ferry, to a bicycle on Naoshima island.
Naoshima is a small, lush green island about 30 minutes off the coast. It has hills and pretty beaches and bamboo groves. It also has undergone a slow transformation into one of the worlds most unexpected art Meccas since the 70’s, thanks mostly to Tadao Ando, a Japanese architect who has helped create 7 or 8 site specific structures, museums, installations, houses on the island. Some of these stand alone and some of these contain works by other artists. For me, this was one of the most anticipated parts of the trip.
We rode from the east side of the island, through the hills, to the west side and ended up at the Art House Project. It has 6 traditional houses that have all been altered, either drastically or minimally, to work as installations.
There’s nothing that will make you hate art more than a group of 100 Danish design undergrads on a field trip, each trying to outdo each other to appear more sophisticated. Each trying to take everything a little more seriously than the last.
Some of the places did feel tailored for that audience…and that audience is a fairly captured one.
You walk in. The person at the front tells you that you cannot take any photos, you must remove your shoes, there is no talking, and hey you parked your bike a little too far to the left.
Ok fine. What is this thing that I’m gonna have to resist taking a photo of?
You remove your shoes and walk into the space. There is nothing in the room other than a cement block on the ground. There are 8 or 9 Danes circling it in consternation.
There is no explanation, there is nothing to read. Not that art needs to explain itself… But it can’t be boring AND not tell me why it’s being so boring.
Maybe it’s that I work with kids now. Maybe it’s that I think engagement is the real challenge, and the real value. Maybe I’m a little too far out of the bubble now.
At certain points, I actually was looking for parody in it. The Benesse House sits atop a hill and is a large round cement structure that looks as if a Bond villain would live there. The staff wear tuxedo-like uniforms. Sometimes stairs go directly into walls, paths lead to empty rooms with an audio track on loop saying “check please”, neon signs spelling out curse words, 80$ t shirts that are also not for sale. It’s like someone wrote “pretentious art museum” in a script and this is what the set designers came up with. It should be funny…if only there was a wink that they are in on the joke.
The contrast between this art and the museum in Kanazawa became starker and starker.
What was great is that you would leave each little enclave excited, inspired, bummed, bored, whatever, hop on your bike and ride through a forest, a beach, a fishing village to your next destination. It’s a nice palette cleanser. (No photos inside photos allowed anywhere.)
Another Turrell room. I’ll gush again. It manages to be both hyper serious, slow, quiet and both physically and emotionally overpowering. I can’t really describe it, but it involves allowing your eyes to adjust to an incredibly dark room and barely-there shreds of light that completely alter your sense of space…and a little of your sense of time. The room is static. It doesn’t change. The action is entirely happening in the connection from your eye to your brain. We sat in the room for 30 minutes, but when they told me that, i could have sworn it was less than 10.
There was a beautiful Jennifer Bartlett diptych too.
What really shone through were the giant sculptures that randomly (not randomly) you would stumble on. Walk down a beach and come across a huge steel structure coming out of the sand like the Statue of Liberty in planet of the apes. Ride by a field with a 9ft blue cat sitting in it. Psychedelic pumpkins everywhere etc etc etc.
We took the ferry, train, train to Okayama, where we would be spending our last night. The hotel we stayed in has a partnership with the Okayama art museum and features small displays loaned from the museum on each floor. Pretty cool for a 80$ hotel.