For a small remote island, Naoshima, off the coast of Uno in the Seto Inland Sea, is home to a surprisingly large and diverse collection of art-pieces and museums. The coast is dotted with contemporary sculptures, including Yayoi Kusama’s iconic yellow pumpkin, and abandoned homes along the island’s eastern side have transformed into immersive installations as part of the Art House Project. The focal point is the Benesse Art Site, designed by Tadao Ando, which is part hotel and part museum. Chichu Art Museum overlooks the sea from its perch on the hillside, offering a contemplative space that blurs the line between construction and nature. Come for the James Turrell installations, stay for the vast room of Claude Monet water lily paintings, which are mirrored in an outdoor garden. The adjacent islands of Inujima and Teshima also feature innovative works of art and can be accessed by ferry.
2. Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art
Exhibiting both foreign and Japanese works of art, the Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art makes an impression before you’ve even walked through the door. designed by Tadao Ando, the modern concrete structure was created as part of the revitalisation and reconstruction of Kobe’s waterfront area following the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 and uses Ando’s signature concrete blocks and glass transparencies throughout. Inside the museum, the rooms reveal tributes to painters Ryohei Koiso and Kanayama Heizo, two of the country’s most acclaimed artists, and there’s a focus on modern and contemporary paintings, sculptures and prints. Many of the exhibitions shift, drawing attention to various artists and thematic ideas. The overall aim of the museum is to “recover and restore human spiritual happiness”, an effect ideally generated by displays of aesthetic beauty that allow for visitor interaction.
3. Hiroshima Museum of Art
The Hiroshima Museum of Art celebrates both European masterpieces and Japanese creations. There’s a strong collection of surrealist and impressionist painters, from Auguste Renoir to Edgar Degas, and the Japanese galleries focus on modern and contemporary works by artists like Yuzo Saeki. The small rooms extend outward from a circular rotunda and the museum’s location in Hiroshima Central Park lends a peaceful atmosphere to the building. Special temporary exhibitions also rotate through the galleries. For more art within the city, visit the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, which showcases more current works.
4. Yamaguchi Prefectural Art Museum
The history and expression of art from Yamaguchi is at the core of the Yamaguchi Prefectural Art Museum, a vibrant museum featuring both a permanent collection and rotating special exhibits. The works of Katsuji Fukuda, an acclaimed Japanese photographer born in the region, play a large role in the museum, with the walls revealing many of his memorable nude portraits. Paintings by Toyo Sesshu and Kansai Mori are juxtaposed with traditional tatami flooring, allowing visitors to view the exhibition as if inside a Japanese home. The outdoor sculpture garden, with its views of the surrounding Kameyama Park, reveals the shifting seasons from its benches.
5. Otsuka Museum of Art
One of Japan’s largest exhibition spaces is found in Naruto, home of the Otsuka Museum of Art. Rather than displaying original works, the museums has recreated 1,000 replicas of iconic works of Western art, from antiquity to the 20th century, using ceramic boards. The effect is equally strange and inviting, as visitors can view the “Mona Lisa” in the same breath as Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”. Marvel at the vast scope of the Sistine Chapel without setting foot in Italy or venture into an outdoor display of Monet’s water lilies, which surround a pool of living water lilies.
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