In the small Seto Inland Sea in south Japan, the Benesse Corporation has turned three sparsely inhabited islands into sanctuaries for art. Since 1992, the Berlitz Language Schools’ parent company has been developing innovative art sites on Naoshima, Teshima, and Inujima.
On Naoshima, Tadao Ando designed a pioneering museum unlike any other. Crafted to interfere as little as possible with the island’s astonishing natural beauty and views across the sea, the Chichu Art Museum is built into the very island of Naoshima; it is almost entirely underground. Skylights provide the galleries with lighting. As the time and season changes, so too do the lighting and the viewing experience. The museum and the island also draw the eye, with the former melting into the latter.
The tranquil sea and surroundings are enhanced by the meditative art. Five of Claude Monet’s contemplative water lily series are displayed, along with Walter De Maria’s Time/Timeless/No Time (2004), which transforms with the position of the sun. His work, like his New York Earth Room, often plays with nature. The artist, once in a band with Velvet Underground star Lou Reed, is perhaps most in his element in this gallery. Natural light pours in and the art is separated by miles from the nearest city but minutes from greenery and the sea.