Arty Farty

Posted by on Nov 10, 2011 in Kagawa, Travel Volunteer Journey | 6 Comments
Arty Farty

Another syndrome you should know about is that of The Wee Man. The key symptom is that the smaller-than-average person tends to compensate for their lack of feet and inches by being boisterous and uppity. Napoleon had it. So did Ghengis Khan. And so too does Kagawa, Japan’s smallest prefecture.
While other, larger, prefectures are happy to stumble along in anonymity, Kagawa very much wants the world to know that it exists. One of its greatest assets in attempting to do this is one of its tiny islands, Naoshima, an art haven that would have critics raving if it were in Europe, never mind in the middle of Japan’s Inland Sea.
Twenty years ago, it was essentially just another rock in the water. Then the Benesse Corporation – a publishing giant – decided that Naoshima should be the home to its expanding collection of (largely modern) art. Today, there are Benesse-backed projects spread all over the island, the most conspicuous of which is Benesse House, a collection of brilliant work, housed in a museum that looks out across the ocean. Andy Warhol’s Flowers are here, as are two typically garish works by David Hockney, and White Alphabets, an eerie, textured piece by Jasper Johns. Even the small restaurant on site has a huge work by Gilbert and George, with the two artists glaring at you while you wipe miso soup from your chin.

It’s a marvellous, tremendously expensive collection of modern art, but, if anything, the Chichu Art Museum further up the hill might be even more spectacular.

Like Benesse House, the building was designed by award-winning architect Tadao Ando, making it a work of art in its own right. Housed largely underground, its a maze of brushed concrete and hidden interior gardens. Crucially, despite its subterranean design, the entire place uses only natural light. For the likes of James Turrell’s Open Sky, this is all important: the work is simply a view straight up through an open hole in the ceiling. It’s less important in his Open Field, however, a bizarre walk-in installation bathed in violet that left our eyes and brains unable to properly communicate with one another.
However, perhaps the biggest draw for Chichu is its collection of Monets, which are housed in a stunning white gallery all of their own. Walking in feels like being in the Matrix’s loading programme and ordering world class impressionist paintings. Truth be told, I didn’t fall in love with them, but simply standing in front of a paintings so large, by someone so famous… Well it’s hard not to be impressed – especially for Katy who, for a brief moment, was able to stand in the room, alone with millions and millions of yen’s worth of Monet’s famous Water Lilies.
The last artist housed in Chichu is the American Walter De Maria, who has a solitary, massive creative space known as Time/Timeless/No Time. It is, in the literal sense, an awesome sight, and as we edged into the giant cathedral-like hall, we were careful to be suitably reverent, the words of the gallery attendant still ringing softly in our ears: “Don’t touch anything and be silent.”

But all of that was blown away by some quite alarming flatulence. It filled the room, echoing and reverberating around the place; astonishing, devastating, brazen. In a fleeting second this brown note had exploded the artistic melody of the day. Immediately accusing looks flashed around the room, but our gaze soon landed one particularly happy-looking Japanese pensioner, who on seeing that he had been rumbled, let out a bellowing laugh, louder, even, than this initial outburst.

Trying not to crumple into giggles in such circumstances is as easy as recreating the Mona Lisa with a crayon. And it seemed the more we tried not to laugh the worst it got: we covered our hands with our mouths, but that was like putting a thumb in a fizzing beer bottle, and only made the problem worse. In the end, we averted eye contact, with him and with each other, stumbling down the stairs and back out to our embarrassed guide.

Back out in the considerably-fresher air, we moved down into Naoshima’s residential area and were pleased to discover that the art work isn’t restricted to the museums on the hill. Yayoi Kusama’s dotty pumpkins pop up around the island (making this at least the third prefecture in which we’ve seen her work) and are joined by a number of “art houses”, part of an ambitious project to convert traditional Japanese homes into living works of art. Houses, and even an art temple, with a weird crystal stair case (as seen above) passing from the entrance to the old building, underground to a chamber below.

Of course art is subjective, but by far our favourite was the old dentist’s house, which had some amazingly textured paint work, a collage that spread across the floors and walls, and a two-story Statue of Liberty. Best of all, the bold farter was nowhere to be found.






ベネッセハウスのように、この地中美術館は世界的に有名な建築家安藤忠雄氏によってデザインされたものだ。建物のほとんどの部分は地下にあり、コンクリートの迷路と隠れた美しい庭によって形成されている。そして地下のデザインにも関わらず、全ての場所は自然光のみで照らされるようになっている。ジェームズ・タレルの“Open Sky”のように、それはとても重要なことで、天井から空いている穴から目にするものが作品なのだ。彼の”Open Field”ではさほど重要なことではないのかもしれないが、紫色した奇妙な空間は私達の思考を止めてしまった。


そしてアメリカ人アーティスト、ウォルター・デ・マリアの”Time / Timeless / No Time”。それは素晴らしい作品だった。ギャラリーのスタッフが“作品に触れないように!そしてお静かに!”とささやくなか、私達はその巨大な大聖堂のような展示室で、敬虔な気持ちになった。





  1. Beth Hird
    November 10, 2011

    Gah! I am sooo jealous that you get to see all this great art!
    congrats on a great blog and great photos. I love how you tell it like it is.
    Kudos to you & Katy!!!

  2. billy shears
    November 12, 2011

    Nice shots! I wonder what kind of camera you are using?

  3. Timothy Nakayama
    November 12, 2011

    I would LOVE to have one of these in my room…or at least a miniature version of it. By the way, Jamie, did you know that Napolean Bonaporte wasn’t THAT short? It’s a popular misconception – he was about 170 m…. that’s average height for people back then. I think the misconception started as there was a confusion using inches and meters.

  4. Katy & Jamie
    November 16, 2011

    Hi Billy,
    I use a really old Canon 5d. Had it for nearly 8 years now and it’s been everywhere with me. Needless to say it’s pretty beaten up!

  5. Tami
    November 27, 2011

    Funny. I go into a fit of giggles, every time I read this “Arty Farty”.
    So I would like to sing a song like Julie Andrews with the melody of “My favorite things” in my poor English.

    Pumpkins of Kusama, yellow and red;
    Three metal squares, moving with the wind;
    Blue collaged dreams in Dentist’s house;
    These are a few of my favorite things (in Naoshima)

    Turrel’s installation bathed in violet;
    Monet’s white gallery like the Matrix’s loading programme;
    Brown echoes, timely in Time/Timeless/No time;
    These are a few of my favorite things (in Naoshima)

    When the dog bites,
    When the bee stings,
    When I’m feeling sad,
    I simply remember my favorite things (in Naoshima),
    And then I don’t feel so bad!
    Thank you.

    • Katy & Jamie
      December 1, 2011

      Hahaha! Thank you so much for this – it made us both smile a lot