From the moment visitors get off the ferry on Naoshima Island, they are likely to encounter a work of art.
Some works are part of the original collection, donated by the Bennesse corporation, while others have been inspired to join in the years since the company turned the area into a thriving artistic bastion. While there are pieces of art scattered all over the island, the center of the project is considered to be the Tadao Ando designed museum and hotel that make up the Bennesse complex.
Naoshima’s history, even when summarized probably a bit too concisely, is inspiring. In the 1980’s the chairman of Fukutake Publishing began looking for a home for their corporate art collection. Rather than build a museum in Tokyo, the chairman wondered if the islands he remembered from his youth might benefit from the influx of an artistic economy. Mineral resources, once the lifeblood of the islands were no longer profitable and the islands’ youth were leaving behind the remaining careers such as fishing and moving to bigger cities, all culminating in a depressed economy. Luckily a mayor from the island region reached out to the chairman and, over time, a plan evolved.
To kick start the artistic revolution in the area, the great architect Tadao Ando was contracted to design the beginnings of a complex of museums that were quite dramatic on the inside, but surprisingly subtle on the outside, partially concealed by the surrounding land.
This high profile project led to new commissions of site-specific works, especially in the town of Naoshima. The corporation, now known as Bennesse, created a foundation that runs the ever increasing amount of modern art that is on display in the town.
There are certain pieces and experiences designed for hotel guests only, but there is much more that is open to all. Special attention should be paid to the fisherman’s houses in the port area, the sculptures on the grounds of the Bennesse Museum/Hotel and the Chichu Art Museum, dedicated to three different artists.