Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Japan - Naoshima Island's Benesse House: A Unique Museum/Hotel

On the obscure island of Naoshima is Benesse House, a modern art museum/hotel founded by a large Japanese publishing firm of the same name. Benesse House, built by the renowned architect Tadao Ando, is part of a larger art project that includes another museum by Ando and about a half dozen other modern art installations on the island. As is typical of Ando's buildings, every detail of the museum is planned to work in harmony with the excellent modern art collection it houses.

Staying and dining in the museum is a special treat, and literally one for many senses. We ate a lovely kaiseki lunch at a long table where half of us faced a large Sebastian Basquiat painting and the other half faced the sea, with their eyes led to the shore line by a series of shore line paintings by Sugimoto Hiroshi, one of the leading photographers of the world and a major collaborator on the Benesse Art Project.

Scattered around the hotel site are important sculptures . . .

. . . and up the road is a ceramic scupture -- known locally as the gomi bako (trash can) -- by Mishima Kimio, a leading Japanese ceramic artist who has worked for decades in the pop tradition and who herself stands less than five feet tall.

My favorite thing on the island is the Chichu (literally underground) Museum, a masterpiece designed by Ando Tadao, where every step reveals a new vista combining sophisticated architecture and sunlight. The entire museum is underground, with open air courtyards and galleries lit only by natural skylights. It contains only seven works of art: four large Monet water lilies hung in a specially designed room that must be experienced, a relatively small James Turrell light sculpture, an entire Turrell room that explores (very successfully in my opinion) the essence of light and an enormous installation by Walter de la Maria that explores symmetry, light and mathematical relationships. (Unfortunately, photographs were not permitted in the museum.)

Although not easy to get to, Benesse House is truly a must!

Bobby Jay


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