Visit Japan’s Art Islands

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CRAFT: Visit Japan’s art islands

A cluster of once-polluted islands in the Seto Inland Sea have become the unlikely home to Japan’s largest and most inspiring collection of contemporary art. Founded in 1989 by billionaire arts patron Soichiro Fukutake, Benesse Art Site has steadily grown from its original home on Naoshima to populate neighbouring Teshima and Inujima islands too. A pilgrimage for modern art lovers around the world, Benesse Art Site invites visitors to immerse themselves in art, outside the usual white-box walls of galleries and museums.

Having grown up in rural Japan, Fukutake is passionate about natural environments – he believes art is best experienced surrounded by nature and that it has the power to revive rural communities. Advocating a new form of philanthropic capitalism, Fukutake has overseen the building of numerous permanent exhibitions, housing the work of some of the world’s most renowned artists in architecturally-designed centres across the islands.

Read on for our top 5 must-see exhibitions.

1. Benesse House Museum

Part museum, part hotel, Benesse House Museum seamlessly brings together architecture, art, nature and hospitality. Visitors are invited to live amidst the exhibitions, wandering the expansive interiors and grounds, whilst enjoying breath-taking views of the Seto Inland Sea.

2. Art House Project

This beautiful project sees artists take abandoned houses in Naoshima island’s Honmura district and turn them into works of art, weaving in local history and memories of the period when the buildings were lived in. Beginning in 1998, Art House Project now comprises of seven locations, inviting visitors to walk from house to house, getting a sense for everyday life on the island whilst interacting with local residents as they go.

3. Tom Na H-iu

Standing in the centre of still pond, surrounded by bamboo groves on the island of Teshima, artist Mariko Mori’s contemporary obelisk is both beautiful and mesmerising. A modern monument symbolising life and death in our time, the sculpture is linked to the Kamioka Observatory in Hida, Japan, interactively glowing when it receives data generated by supernova explosions.

4. Inujima Seirensho Art Museum

Breathing new life into the ruins of a former copper refinery on Inujima Island, Inujima Seirensho Art Museum’s dramatic industrial interiors are the work of progressive architect Hiroshi Sambuichi and house the work of artist Yukinori Yanagi. The exhibition is a vocal critique of Japan’s modernisation, and by harnessing renewable energy to power the building, actively embraces sustainable development.

5. Naoshima Bath “I♥︎

For an experience truly out of the ordinary, don’t leave Naoshima without visiting “I♥︎. Straight from the imagination of artist Shinro Ohtake, the bathhouse was created with the intention of bringing about interactions between local residents and international visitors. Drawings and found objects covering the bathhouse create a colourful collage, bringing to life the pages of Ohtake’s creative sketchbooks.

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