“This is the most beautiful museum in the world”, I keep thinking as I move from one space to another.
The island of Naoshima ??? is 15 km2 nestled in the Seto inland sea among other neighboring islands. Over the past few decades, its development as a contemporary art destination has been encouraged by the Benesse corporation, owners of the Berlitz language schools. The island is dotted of art projects, museums and installations. The architect Tadao Ando has been commissioned in particular for the Chichu (“in the earth”) Museum, the Benesse House and the Lee Ufan Museum, which are stunning architectural masterpieces carefully integrating with their environment.
The Chichu Museum makes use of raw concrete, glass and untreated wood as its main materials. The lines are clean, minimalist, and natural light is funneled in ingenious ways through hidden openings in the ceiling, and reflecting on the walls.
This must be what it looks like when a hyper-tesseract intersects our 3-dimensional world. Perhaps this was built by aliens. But not the scary, Geiger, kind of aliens. Rather ones that are just more evolved and have reached an understanding of space, volumes, and form that still eludes us.
The planes intersect to form floors, walls and ceilings in a way that is purposeful, but not utilitarian. They reveal a space that was always present, but just beyond our ability to resolve.
Natural light is just as much an architectural element as the raw concrete. But it changes with the passing of the day and the seasons, making the space within the building come to life.
Sometimes a piece of sky or a view on the ocean is framed by an opening in a wall or the ceiling. It feels like this is nature’s museum, as well and not just of the works of man.
I tried to take a few pictures of the building, but this is like writing about music: nothing can replace the visceral experience of being present in the space.
The collection housed in the museum is diminutive, just 5 paintings by Monet, three installations by James Turrell and one by Walter de Maria. But the museum itself is the 10th masterpiece worth the visit on its own.
The Monets (some of his water lilies) are housed in a large white room which you enter after putting on slippers. The floor is covered with white marble mosaic tiles. The natural light suffuses the space and gives an ever changing illumination of the artwork, appropriate for works from Monet who was reproducing on his canvas the ever changing light on the water lilies. The ceiling, floor and walls intersections are softly rounded, giving the impression that the paintings are floating in an infinite white space, and contrasting with the brushwork and deep colors of Monet.
The installations by James Turrell involve light, and the one I like best is his “open sky” which consist of a square courtyard with tall walls and a large square opening in the ceiling which frames a portion of the sky.
My favorite installation is the one by Walter de Maria,”time/timeless/no time”: a room 10m wide by 24m long, where a flight of stairs lead to a platform on which reside a 2.2m dark granite sphere with gold flecks. Natural light flows from a skylight and slits in the ceiling. Around the room are arranged 24 gold leaf covered wooden posts. There is a surprising sense of calm and serenity that is emanating from the space. Here again it is not the “objects” themselves that are the attraction, but rather the space structured by them that has to be experienced as a whole.
In addition to these main attractions, the island is dotted with interesting sculptures, old houses that have been converted into art spaces, and even a public bath (onsen) which features a stained glass skylight and a life size elephant suspended from the ceiling.
Naoshima may not be very well known, and a bit out of the way, but the quality of the art, the architecture in particular, that is featured there make it a worthwhile detour.