Global Galleries: Benesse Art Site, Naoshima

An entire island dedicated to art in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea is filled with buildings by architect Tadao Ando and pumpkins by artist Yayoi Kusama

The island of Naoshima, off the south-east coast of Japan, is a one-of-a-kind dream space, where Ando’s giant buildings exist purely for the purpose of hanging singular pieces of art. Old wooden town houses are home to immersive artworks by American artist James Turrell, while beautiful gardens overlooking the ocean are adorned by huge sculptures by Lee Ufan and Yayoi Kusama. 

To get there, you take the bullet train down to Okayama and it’s then a short boat ride across the Seto Inland Sea to Naoshima. The island is small and easily accessible and the artworks and foundations are spread mainly across the southern half. Benesse House Museum hosts contemporary sculptures and installations, as well as being home to a wonderful hotel. Rooms have stunning views out over the calm sea, and you might find a sympathetic seascape by photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto hanging above your bed. A huge pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama sits at the end of the pier in the grounds.

From here, head west to the Lee Ufan Museum, a collaboration between the Korean sculptor and painter and Tadao Ando. Sitting in a lovely shallow valley, the building is semi-underground and surrounded by some of Lee’s minimalist works in stone and iron. Carry on further and you arrive at Chichu Art Museum, which houses pieces by Claude Monet, James Turrell and American artist Walter De Maria. On the island’s east coast, you’ll find the Art House project, which utilises old village buildings and repurposes them as galleries to house Shinro Ohtake installations and the like. 

The island is a singular place, with an aura and sense of calm that is unique, but the real draw is the chance to appreciate art in an environment that’s the polar opposite of the classic European gallery, where dozens of works are crammed into the same room. Here, it’s all about space and mindfulness and the works’ relationships with their context – and that totally changes the way you experience it. 


By Dan Annett, Photo Director, Secret Trips. Dan is a British photographer and director specialising in fashion, portrait and lifestyle images.  danannett.com

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