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Naoshima Japan

Naoshima’s Arty ‘Spaces’

What, and more importantly, why?
What, and more importantly, why?
An arty big red pumpkin.
An arty big red pumpkin.
Trang is art. We weren't allowed to take this photo either.
Trang is art. We weren’t allowed to take this photo.
I am art. We weren't allowed to take this photo.
I am art. We weren’t allowed to take this photo.
I am art again.
I am art again.

Depending on your taste with regard to modern art, you’ll either love Naoshima or you’ll hate it. If you find modern art innovatively dynamic, refreshingly thought provoking and challengingly creative, then you’re bound to love the place. On the other hand, if you think modern art is the sole occupation of the more pompous, high brow, and pretentious members of our pitiful race, then a visit to Naoshima will probably feel like your own very abstract version of hell.

Personally I’m a bit in between the two, wanting to appreciate art whilst also being aware of its more grotesquely pretentious manifestations. Therefore, on reflection, the day we spent on the art island of Naoshima wasn’t entirely time wasted.

We were staying over the bay, in the surprisingly neat and tidy town of Takamatsu, in an impossibly small but thus fairly priced ‘business hotel’. From there the island of Naoshima is a not unpleasant 50 minute boat trip away.

After alighting upon the pier we hired a pair of bicycles, and cycled off into the mountains in search of art.

The island is famous for being dotted with a number of strange exhibits of ‘art’ – a word I am using here in it’s absolutely most expanded and forgiving sense. The first and most arresting of these was a large red and black pumpkin shaped item stationed next to the ferry terminal.

I must admit, fun though they were, I for one had trouble seeing the ‘art’ aspect of this particular piece, as I similarly couldn’t see much particularly ‘arty’ about the large yellow and black pumpkin shaped thing we also saw a few hours of hilly bike rides later.

A highlight of Naoshima is the not inconsiderable Chichu Art Museum – a winding labyrinth of concrete coridoors, rooms and interestingly shaped ‘spaces’ (everything is a ‘space’ these days. We don’t have ‘rooms’ anymore. We have ‘spaces’), within which there were lots of interesting pieces of room/space-sized art.

Despite the slightly lofty entrance fee (2,000 yen each – about £10 a head), we did feel it was worth it. The whole place is very highbrow, I have to say, a fact not helped by staff who appear to have not cracked smiles in many, many years. One member of staff in particular, before whisperedly reminding us not to photograph anything ever, also asked us if we’d been to the museum before.

Upon hearing we hadn’t and thus needing to tell us the name of the artist who contributed the space we were about to enter, she did seem to slightly roll her eyes in a ‘you are clearly mere tourists, unable to appreciate the art in this space, and thus the information I’m about to give you is a waste of both my time and yours’ kind of way.

Still, it duly gave us a very enjoyable sense of banditry as we secretly snapped a few dozen pictures behind her pretentious back, several of which I have reproduced here for you to see with a flagrant disregard to any concern for copyright. See you in court.

This photograph, of a space designed by an artist, is not here.
This photograph, of a space designed by an artist, is not here.

For all its pretentiousness and weird moody staff, and despite my disdain, the Chichu Art Museum was actually a remarkable place. It was worth the lofty entrance fee, just to wander around the interestingly shaped court yards, and to see the exhibits which you actually seem to become part of. The whole place is a work of art.

The whole space, I mean.