I took a few semesters of art history in college. I like art museums; I really do.
But surely there’s a more interesting way to display art than simply hanging it on a wall, indoors, behind a plane of clear plexiglass. Wasn’t art made for interaction?
Funny you should ask.
On an obscure island in Japan’s inland sea, an hour’s ferry ride from Okayama, there’s a place that displays art in a very unique (and exciting) way. The island is called Naoshima, and it’s one of my top ten WOW places in the entire world.
Naoshima has outdoor sculptures. It has several world-class art museums. But what knocked my socks off about Naoshima was the tiny town of Honmura, on the eastern edge the island. That’s where you find the “Art House Project”. The concept here is simple. Six artists were each invited to convert an abandoned, Japanese-style house (plus one shrine) into an art installation. After paying your modest fee (less than $10) at the welcome center, you’re given a map and sent forth on a mission to find the art houses. Call it a mini treasure hunt. Each art house location is cooler than the next. For example, there’s the shrine with glass steps that you can view from above and below ground level. There’s the house with its main room filled with water, where colored LED lights (with descending numbers) bob and float on a tranquil pond. There’s the old warehouse with a 2-story Statue of Liberty inside, and the traditional house where the paintings are created with a certain kind of solution that oxidizes over time, revealing more and more of the background. And finally, there’s Minamidera, realized by the famous architect Ando Tadao. You walk into the building in pitch black, following the twisty hallway with your hand extended. Eventually you reach a bench, where you sit and watch the room slowly brighten. What happens next, well, I don’t want to spoil it for you. Go see it for yourself.
My friend Adam and I finish our great day in Naoshima by dropping by I♥YU, a Japanese sento (bathhouse) designed and reimagined by Shinro Ohtake. The place is off-the-chart kitschy, a quilt of bright colors and, get this, an elephant statue in the main bath.
Although Naoshima has its fair share of tourists, it somehow manages to NOT feel like Disneyland. It’s a chill place, where you get around by electric bicycle (or bus, if you prefer). I could’ve stayed in Naoshima for a week (there ARE hotels), soaking up the atmosphere and looking for hidden art. What a relaxing, inspiring place. Wow.