Skip to main content
Ages 13+
Under 13
Large sculpture of squash on pier near water.

Naoshima the Japanese Island Besieged by Works of Art


Kusama, Pollock, Tadao Ando, Basquiat and even Monet are scattered across the forests of this tiny Japanese island. An enchanting destination.

Imagine arriving on an island by boat and the first thing you see is an enormous speckled pumpkin tranquilly reposing at the end of a jetty. That says it all. You are about to enter a zone governed by the distorted laws of art. Naoshima is in the Seto Inland Sea in the south of Japan and the pumpkin, the work of Yayoi Kusama, offers a welcome to this wonderland of contemporary art dispersed and immersed in its misty forests.

The strange case of the emergence of contemporary art and architecture in such an isolated place is the result of donations by magnate and art lover Soichiro Fukutake, president of the Benesse Corporation and who, for almost 30 years, has financed one project after another, many of which form part of Naoshima’s permanent collection.

The island is full of museums that are also hotels. The first of them was the Benesse House Museum, built in 1992 by the brilliant Tadao Ando, who has to date designed seven structures on the small island, including two other museums. But the pieces are not limited to gallery walls but inhabit the island like native and mythological beings.

In the island’s almost two square miles there is a work of art wherever you look that, instead of interrupting the forested landscape, illuminate it. The Art House Project, for example, is an initiative that transformed derelict houses into sculptures that are woven from cloth in the Japanese tradition.

One of the contributions to the project included the creation of a new sculpture called “Minamidera,” a construction designed by Tadao Ando in 1999 to house a work by James Turrell called “Backside of the Moon”.

Naoshima is home to works by Walter de María, Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns, Frank Stella, Jean-Michel Basquiat and, believe it or not, Claude Monet. The Chichu Museum houses a large-scale Water lillies or Nymphaea by the French impressionist, from the same series that hangs in the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris. To highlight the piece, a blurred scene of clouds and weeping willows is reflected in a pool with natural light. Outside the museum there is even a garden modeled after Monet’s garden in Giverny.

Nowhere else other than on Naoshima does art imitate nature and nature receive art with such an open disposition. When reality is not enough, or when you want to literally stay for a while within a constant aesthetic experience, Naoshima is there to bend your margins of perception.

Related Articles