Naoshima is a small island among 3,000+ islands of Seto Inland Sea in Japan. This small island of about 3500 residents, whose natural environment had been compromised severely by the metal refinery industry, was miraculously converted into an island of art, culture and nature by the great Japanese architect Tadao Ando and other artists. Since this architectural-art project seems to be aimed at the realization of a space where life, art, and nature coexist seamlessly, the pathetic state of the small island, in a way, may have worked positively in the end – judging solely from the outcome of the architect and artists endeavor. Naoshima as it exists now is a fantastical place where we can experience art intimately. For instance, as one walks around a road one can encounter art objects placed nonchalantly in a rectangular cave, rock wall, or pier. Such encounters give one delight and moments of reflection.
I booked a hotel room at Oval almost 6 months in advance for I wanted to stay in this particular hotel which has only 6 rooms including 2 suits. When we arrived at the hotel after trains, ferry, and a shuttle bus provided by Benesse House hotel it was already dark. (I had almost forgotten days are much shorter in winter even in Japan.) As soon as we arrived at the hotel I knew we would experience architectural bliss (if you like modern architecture of reinforced concrete and minimalist austere beauty – I’d hazard to say Versailles fans might not like this place). We were guided into the hallway of an art museum to get to the door of the monorail (my husband thought it was a funicular but he confirmed it was a monorail after fact-checking on Wikipedia as the hotel bell boy told us). Since the door to the monorail works only with a room key, the Oval is accessible only by the people who stay at Oval rooms. The monorail start point had a camera that showed if the car was still at the top. As we moved up the steep hill we began to hear waterfalls, which was part of Ando’s architectural wonder. The six rooms and a reception room surround blue oval pool brimming with water. The atmosphere there was serene and mysterious. As I checked the balcony (though it was chilly and a little windy) I could see the far lights of Takamatsu city on Shikoku Island. The room heater was either all on or all off due to the malfunction of the thermostat. We used it as a sort of fireplace rather than calling a repair person. We certainly didn’t want to be bothered by anybody. We had dinner at Benesse’s French restaurant Terrace situated in another Benesse hotel Park. The dinner was quite good though the waiters seemed a little untrained.
The following day we visited Chichu Museum located perhaps the highest point of the island. But the museum itself was built underground. As we walked toward the museum after getting off the shuttle bus I recognized a garden which looked so much like the garden from Monet’s painting, Japanese Footbridge and the Water Lily Pond, Giverny. Later we discovered it was a reproduction of the lily pond in Giverny. The art works in Chichu Museum were breathtaking. All the art works were presented in great harmony with the museum architecture itself. Walter de Maria’s sculptural work, “Time/ Timeless/ No Time,” was truly awe-inspiring. As we walked through the dark corridor to a huge open space we were faced with a huge black granite ball placed on the mid-point of a wide staircase lined with golden tubed objects bathed in sunlight from the skylight. It was almost a spiritual experience. James Turrell’s installations “Open Field” and “Open Sky” were also evocative of mystery and spirituality. Monet’s huge three paintings of water lilies in Claude Monet space were also meditatively presented in this labyrinth-like museum.
Later we visited the Lee Uphan and Ando Museum and found these them equally moving.
Visiting Naoshima Art Island was not necessarily convenient but the experience we had in this Tadao Ando’s architectural project was certainly worth it. It was sublime.