“Creating a space for soulful dialogue without disrupting the Seto Inland Sea’s natural beauty”Soichiro Fukutake
Visiting the Chichu Art Museum is a quintessential experience on Naoshima Island. After parking at the museum’s dedicated lot, the walk towards the museum unexpectedly immerses visitors in a scene reminiscent of Impressionist master Claude Monet‘s paintings, blurring the lines between reality and dreams.
In the morning, the serene act of a gardener tending to the garden, meticulously removing leaves from the water, provokes contemplation of the relationship between nature and humans. The “Chichu Garden” a passage to the museum, reflects a belief in the fleetingness of scenes and the permanence of art in nature.
This garden, spread over 1,043 square meters, is planted with hundreds of varieties of flowers and trees, echoing Monet’s garden in Giverny, Paris. Throughout the year, visitors can experience Monet’s depiction of nature through lilies, willows, bamboo, and irises reflecting on the water’s surface.
Island’s Gateway to Art
Naoshima, an island in the Seto Inland Sea, is known as a hub of modern art and a must-visit for admirers of Tadao Ando‘s architecture. The Chichu Art Museum, designed by Ando, is ingeniously hidden underground, making it appear as an “invisible building” from above.
The museum masterfully incorporates natural light and shadows to exhibit the works of contemporary artists like Walter De Maria, James Turrell, and Impressionist Claude Monet. Ando’s architecture, which earned him the Pritzker Prize, not only creates spaces but also awakens a deeper appreciation of the natural environment.
How to get to Chichu Art Museum?
The Chichu Art Museum, established by the Benesse Corporation in 2004 on Naoshima’s southern side, embodies Soichiro Fukutake’s vision for the Setouchi Triennale.
Access to the museum, which closes on Mondays and operates in designated visiting hours, requires an advance online reservation due to its popularity. Visitors can reach the museum by Benesse House’s shuttle service or by renting electric bicycles, with a well-planned parking area available below the museum.
The entrance to the museum is subtly integrated into the natural surroundings, offering an unexpectedly serene experience. The simplistic exterior leads to a square-shaped tunnel without lights, extending towards a point where sunlight softly diffuses.
This journey through the tunnel’s deep shadows evokes a sense of the unknown, reminiscent of scenes from “Spirited Away” It’s as if the space is engaging in a dialogue with the visitor, likely a deliberate design choice by Tadao Ando, to evoke an inwardly reflective experience.
The central courtyard features a vertical geometric space, where natural light filters through square openings, highlighting the expansive sky against the concrete’s gray. The interplay of light and shadow changes with time, casting reflections on the fern-like horsetails at the base.
With fewer visitors this morning, the rare sound of crickets in this urban setting contributed to a serene atmosphere. This bio-architecture harmoniously blends with the ecology, offering a sustainable environmental experience.
In the gallery section , an open-roofed building with towering concrete walls forms a minimalist triangular space. Looking up at the triangular patch of sky offers a unique experience, evoking a special sense of belonging. Notably, the courtyard is not filled with plants but with stones from Niimi in Okayama Prefecture. These limestone pieces, laid at the base, subtly change under natural light, showcasing Tadao Ando’s profound understanding of shapes and natural illumination.
By reservation the first time zone of visiting in the early morning offers a serene experience with Monet’s exhibition. Surrounded by vast paintings in a boundless white space, it evokes a sense of walking through Monet’s “Water Lilies.” The delicate sunlight and indistinct lily shapes cast a dreamlike ambience, capturing the essence of daybreak and dusk.
This profound yet surreal encounter highlights Impressionism’s vibrant colors and heavy brushstrokes that merge to form a cohesive image from afar.
Monet’s “Water Lilies” series, a reflection of his lifelong pursuit of light and shadow, is showcased here on Bianco Carrara marble from Italy, enhancing the gallery’s austere beauty and complementing the gray plaster walls. This setting offers a rare chance to appreciate Monet’s work in natural light, akin to Paris’s Orangerie Museum.
Walter De Maria – Time / Timeless / NoTime
A massive black sphere, placed centrally in a room, comes alive under the skylight’s natural illumination. Its polished surface reflects and refracts light, interacting with our movements on the staircase. This reflective nature of the sphere, reminiscent of the “Monolith” from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” transcends time and space.
This installation by Walter De Maria, a pioneer of installation art, evokes a profound connection with nature. The sphere, crafted from Indian granite and measuring 2×2 meters, is adorned with golden crystals, enhancing both its form and the tranquility of the space.
The exhibition room, co-designed by De Maria and Tadao Ando, considers the impact of varying sunlight on the artwork.
The concrete stairs’ simplicity, the granite sphere’s solidity, and 27 pairs of intricately gold-leafed wooden sculptures create a multidimensional experience.
Maria’s intermittent drum sounds in the room add an auditory dimension, deepening the perception of time’s passage. These elements blend seamlessly, making the artwork and the exhibition room a cohesive whole, where time feels both eternal and absent.
“It was important that people come to value light as we value gold, silver, paintings, objects.”— James Turrell
As a Land artist, blending psychology and astronomy in his work, uses ‘light‘ as a medium for creation. He invites viewers outdoors to explore the boundaries of human perception. In this light-defined space, one is encouraged to stay and experience how light transforms the perception of the surrounding environment.
A unique space that lacks concrete dimensions, creating an almost ‘infinite’ experience. Visitors enter a hollow of light, enveloped in darkness, surrounded by light. With a fixed number of people allowed at a time, guided verbally by the staff, visitors proceed, stop, turn, and continue. This experience, though initially nerve-wracking, reveals itself to be more about perception and less about keeping pace. It’s a humorous realization afterward, likely a psychological twist intended by the artist James Turrell.
Afrum, Pale Blue
James Turrell’s use of light goes beyond creating visual effects; it serves as a medium to explore the boundaries of perception, requiring viewers to take time to feel and understand. On Naoshima, the art project “Minamidera,” designed by Tadao Ando for Turrell’s work “Backside of the Moon” is highly recommended for a visit. To experience it, remember to purchase tickets at the tourist center and arrive early to queue at the site.
James Turrell’s mastery of artificial and natural light, as well as space, showcases his ability to manipulate light to transform environments. This expertise is the foundation of his most significant lifelong project, the Roden Crater Project in Arizona, USA. For years, it has been considered one of the most substantial and significant contemporary art installations.
The Chichu Art Museum on Naoshima exemplifies Tadao Ando’s thoughtful architectural design, reminiscent of his work on the “Church of the Light” in Ibaraki, Osaka. In the museum, narrow corridors use natural light to guide visitors, symbolizing the intersection of ‘walking’ and personal ‘life experiences,’ creating a reflective space. This design philosophy, integrating the ‘self’ into the architecture, echoes Ando’s belief that ‘architecture is static, but human experience is fluid,’ making the museum a physical manifestation of these transient experiences.
Chichu Art Museum
March 1 – September 30
10:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.
(Last admittance: 5:00 p.m.)
October 1 – last day of February
10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
(Last admittance: 4:00 p.m.)
*Open on Mondays for national holidays but closed the next day.
Open Days Calendar
*free for children 15 and under