Whether you’re an artist, an art critic or even an appreciator of the art world, the Island of Naoshima works to lure and inspire visitors with its unique pursuit of visual culture. Located in the Seto Inland Sea off of Kagawa Prefecture, Naoshima is easily an “Island of Dreams”– though small, the land is scattered with surreal, contemporary art and galleries, the art itself integrated into the foundation of the beautifully desolate space. In this, the island works as an immersion in architecture, culture and aesthetic, effectively blurring the division between art, nature and life.
This indistinction is seen in the way the art on the island has become a part of the norm; natives and tourists alike mill around each other, their interpretations of the interspersed sculpture and architecture differing and interweaving. For example, one of the most well-known sculptures that stands as the “mascot” of Naoshima is Yayoi Kusama’s Pumpkin. Its bright yellow surface and black blotches create an unnatural, sickly impersonation of its vegetable counterpart. The Pumpkin is the first art piece that greets visitors, standing as a blinding beacon looking over the sea. It, along with the majority of the art across the island, nestles into its surroundings and creating a sense of unity within each piece.
The island was conceptualized in 1988 by Soichiro Fukutake (the president of the Benesse Corporation), who had the image to create a “utopia” in Japan. He wanted to transform the neglected, economically poor islands of the Seto Inland Sea into a “paradise” of artists’ work for anyone to enjoy, simultaneously revitalizing the area. In terms of contemporary culture, the Island of Naoshima stands as a pinnacle of what it means to harmonize daily life and modern artwork.
This harmony can particularly be seen in one of Naoshima’s most well-known stops: the sento, “I love Yu”. The building is both a functional public bathhouse and art facility, allowing visitors and locals to literally immerse themselves in the work. The bathhouse is an entirely traditional Japanese sento– the aligned showers, the tiled bathtub and the water buckets all present, but personalized with an added flare. The artist incorporated ornate colors and designs to the typically white interiors, creating a collage within the functional space.
The event that brings the artwork, people and scattered islands together is the Setouchi Triennale. Scheduled every three years, the Triennale is a large-scale art festival centers on Naoshima, but extends over 12 islands in the area, ten of which feature outdoor exhibitions. As the event runs for 108 days between March and November, people are given the opportunity to pick the season they prefer to art-hop in.
The Island of Naoshima, along with the other islands in the Triennale, offers not only a public access to modern artwork but also an experience that draws together art and its environment. The artwork on the Islands is unique in that it compliments architecture, is itself architecture or lies within a natural environment. In this, the work is blended into its surroundings, the island represented as a serene entity of art.
For more information on the art of Naoshima, visit http://benesse-artsite.jp/en/art/
For more information on the Setouchi Triennale, visit http://setouchi-artfest.jp/en/