What does hasty work of art mean

Naoshima in Japan: The island of art

On the Japanese island of Naoshima, art has displaced decay. Works by Monet, Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock are exhibited there.

The red, walk-in pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama on the island of Naoshima Photo: Stefan Boness / Ipon

With pathetic music, the dazzling white ferry leaves the port of Takamatsu, an inconspicuous post-war city on the Japanese inland sea. When the sublime tones fade away, the poetry of the landscape has its say: gentle, blue mountains behind morning veils of fog, silvery water, a pale gray sky - the subtle colors flow into one another to form a virtuoso ink drawing. Nothing to suggest that the Seto Sea, with its hundreds of hilly islands, was misused as the nation's industrial landfill for decades.

This also applies to Naoshima, but after the almost one-hour crossing, a huge red, black-dotted pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama sends the signal that art has displaced the garbage here: At the end of the last century, billionaire Soichiro Fukutake began doing this to save the remote island with its aging population, its nature damaged by refineries and its weathered or abandoned houses as an art mecca from ruin.

The publisher founded the Benesse Foundation, which is based on the Socratic visions of the good and right life and wants to give the remaining citizens of Naoshima a leading role in the transformation of their moribund idyll. The freshly paved streets of Honmura, which were drawn into the earth four hundred years ago in harmony with wind and water currents, are still almost empty. The traditional wooden houses of the narrow village with their flamed, soot-black facades look introverted, and the ancestral graves in the front gardens are silent. In the local supermarket, on the other hand, the fish counter is surrounded by a shoal of senior women juggling for the best pieces.

Kadoya is the first house that the locals renovated and given to an artist of their choice in 1998. Tatsuo Miyajima transformed the modest living room into a shallow "sea of ​​time", from the dark water of which 125 columns of numbers light up in different colors and rhythms - how hastily or hesitantly they flicker towards infinity was determined by a Honmura resident.

A few streets away, Hiroshi Senju has painted the walls of the former residence of the Ishibashi family, who got rich with the salt trade, with variations of his famous waterfalls - the almost abstract pictures can only be viewed in dim daylight, and in the twilight of the minimalist rooms the water masses actually seem to be shining flow.

Praise to the shadow

"We are of the opinion that beauty is not to be sought in the objects themselves, but in the chiaroscuro, in the play of shadows that unfolds between the objects," wrote Tanizaki Jun'Ichirō in his famous treatise "In Praise of Shadows", on which he his own "Japanese aesthetics" founded. The emotional and metaphorical aspect of light and darkness is omnipresent on Naoshima.

Kadoya is the first house that locals renovated and given to an artist of their choice in 1998

In a simple building, which the architect Tadao Andō, known for his radical spatial dramaturgy, built as a special camera obscura for James Turrell, visitors feel their way along a wall in the deepest blackness, which repeatedly and surprisingly hooks - the orientation is soon lost, and the room seems to vibrate with nervous tension.

You stare intently into nothing, until after a little eternity the eye finally gets used to the dark and gradually a white rectangle dawns on a wall - like a screen on which an old, dusty film is playing, nothing but a swarm of queasy gray particles: Man watches his own perception at work.

And then, driven by an elementary need, we all run towards the pale light with outstretched hands, as if we wanted to feel it. Unknowingly, we have fallen into a living allegory of the cave, or into the black box of a psychological experiment, and return dazed into broad daylight.

Hiroshi Sugimoto is also reaching for the existential with his underground and above-ground installation on a hill in the middle of a bamboo grove: he renovated a dilapidated wooden shrine from the Edo period flanked by two weathered lion sculptures and surrounded it with a rectangular field of large, round, chalky ones Stones. The eye wanders over the inaccessible, glistening surface and climbs up a staircase made of flawless glass blocks like on ice towards the sky.

Complex art experiences

To visit the chamber dug into the hill under the shrine, you are equipped with a flashlight in case of acute anxiety, because the path leads through a long, shoulder-width tunnel into the unknown - into Hades. But the ladder to heaven, it turns out, reaches down with its steps of frozen light into the underworld - and gives off a faint ray of hope. But on the way back through the narrow corridor, the sea, precisely framed by trees, shines towards you, and even an incredulous heart beats wildly at this symbolic rebirth.

In the magical minimalist Tadao Andō, to whom a miniature museum of his own architecture is also dedicated on Naoshima, Fukutake recognized from the beginning an ideal accomplice in the staging of multi-sensory art experiences that celebrate the path to a work of art as well as the direct confrontation with it.

From Honmura, Ando's Chichu Art Museum is on the other side of a steep mountain that can only be climbed with an electrified bicycle. The Chichu is easy to miss: out of respect for the beguiling landscape, the barren building made of smooth, light gray concrete - Ando's signature material - is hidden like a bunker in a hill. Only from a bird's eye view does a randomly scattered collection of triangular and right-angled openings indicate that there are spaces under the grass.

It can be reached in a detour: through an acute-angled inner courtyard full of stones, surrounded by twelve-meter-high walls, on sharp-edged ramps and stairs, along bare walls with long, narrow viewing slits, through narrow aisles under the open sky - in other words: Andō guides us through a gigantic sculpture whose labyrinthine geometries are never fully revealed.

James Turrell is one of only three artists to whom the sprawling Chichu Museum is dedicated. Early works, in which he tried to give colored light the density of an object, is followed by a space, the actual dimensions of which remain in an optical state of suspension - one intuitively looks for clear boundaries and fails.

In limbo

All the better, then, to lose oneself lying down in the meditation of that section of the sky that Turrell exposed with his unglazed skylight - even if no swallow flies through the sharply outlined field of vision and no cloud floats past, the oblivious look into the ether is an event. At some point, it seems, the air molecules reveal themselves.

Beauty is not to be sought in the objects themselves, but in the shadow play that unfolds

The land art veteran Walter de Maria also got involved Time / Timeless / No Time in the deepest interior of the hill dared to take on a cosmic theme: In its hall, reminiscent of a church nave, a black granite ball more than two meters in diameter sits as a concentrated danger on a landing. In the evening the sun sinks towards the ominous object with the aura of an apocalyptic anti-sun. At long intervals, a soft drum roll shakes the hypnotized viewer back to the present, just as the Zen priest's stick scares the nodding monk awake with one blow. Or is it the rumbling of the angry earth that we hear?

Although Turrell and de Maria symbiotically embody the Benesse concept with their contemplative art embedded in their environment, they did not provide the occasion for the Chichu Art Museum. Rather, the purchase of a monumental water lily painting by Monet from the same series, some of which is hanging in the orangery in Paris, initiated the idea of ​​a permanent location tailored entirely to the works of art.

Later four smaller works from Monet's late work were added. His meticulous rendering of situational lighting makes him a soulmate of his colleagues from the USA, who are around a hundred years younger than him. Andō then gave the painter, who was heavily influenced by Japan, a devout room with rounded corners infiltrated by diffuse daylight, just as Monet had planned for an exhibition space of his lilies himself shortly before his death.

The mood of nature

The pixelated floor made of seven hundred thousand cubes of Carrara marble - so light that a fine haze seems to rise from it - and the marble picture frames in “Thassos white” would certainly have exceeded the Impressionist's wildest expectations.

This also applies to the special plaster of paris on the walls, which was already used in the samurai castle of Takumatsu. And all the more so for the thousand square meter water garden, modeled on its paradise in Giverny, which lines the way to the hidden museum - in keeping with the Japanese tradition of not just celebrating nature, but staging it - and, if in doubt, importing it.

The sensitivity to the moods of nature and the preference for daylight give the art experiences on Naoshima a rare sensitivity, one develops a certain thin-skinnedness and willingness to surrender to the moment, at which one never at MoMA and at best in the department for oceanic in the Metropolitan Museum Sculptures or in other sparsely visited regions. At the same time, the workload of so many places worth seeing, all of which rightly insist on tranquility, creates a conflict. The exhilarating feeling of being cut off from the rest of the world on an island collides with the ferry schedule, which calls for departure in the early evening.

The yin and yang of hunger for adventure and depth of experience can only be resolved in a single day on Naoshima if you have rented a ryokan well in advance, or even better, if you have been able to get hold of a room in the Benesse House Museum. Here, sleeping, dreaming and eating are added to the basic recipe for the coexistence of art, nature and architecture: Ten rooms are integrated into the museum built by Andō at a high point, whose works - by artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Christo and Jeanne Claude , Alberto Giacometti and, of course, Yayoi Kusama - are also accessible to the guests unsupervised at four o'clock in the morning: sitting, lying down or even in twilight sleep.

At least for a while, at Fukutake's request, they should enjoy the privilege of intimacy with world-class art, which is otherwise reserved for very few. In addition, there is the pleasure of "melting away cultural differences" in the hot waters of the bathhouse designed by the Chinese art star Cai Guo-Qiang in the company of international art lovers, according to the brochure.

The sister islands

Of Naoshima's two sister islands, Inujuma struggles most with its industrial past. For almost a hundred years, the population, which has now shrunk to fifty people with an average age of 75, lived in the shadow of the remains of a copper refinery. When the state government wanted to add a toxic rubbish dump to the tiny island, Fukutake spontaneously bought the already abused land and hired the architect Hiroshi Sambuichi, known for his ecological sensitivity, to rehabilitate the ruin.

His new building barely towers above the remains of the black brick wall, which is staggered to form a visual staccato, but like the Chichu Art Museum, it partially disappears into the ground. As an act of reparation for the poisoned nature, the building is an energy machine operated entirely by the air sucked in by the chimney that once spewed black smoke, in whose mechanics the artist Yukinori Yanagi installed his installation based on the Icarus saga.

So he fixed a mirror at every corner that is supposed to slow down the roaring wind in the ninety-meter-long cooling tunnel, which reflects a skylight in such a way that it appears like the light at the end of the tunnel. But as if bewitched, the supposed exit jumps abruptly at every corner in a different direction. Shivering, confused and happy you finally escape into a dilapidated factory landscape, which is already largely buried under plants.

There is still time for a breathless bike ride to the Archives du Coeur, a tiny, secluded building in a grove right on the beach. It houses the steadily growing collection of around fifty thousand heartbeats that Christian Boltanski has recorded from people from all over the world since 2008 as an elementary “document of their existence”.

In a dark room the heart of one stranger after the other beats, amplified to an alarming roar and accompanied by the hectic flickering of a bare lightbulb. For a fee, you can archive your own heartbeat on the spot, and on a computer you can choose additional hearts from the database by name, nationality and a short statement and listen to their pulse for one minute through headphones - the voice of everyone The heart is as individual as a fingerprint, one listens to it spellbound and a little fearfully, like an all too confidential message.

The virtual stethoscope quickly turns you into a diagnostician who registers the slightest stumble. What thought, what feeling might have caused the dropout? It could have been a drop of water, a butterfly framed by Turrell, or the view of the Seto Sea at the end of Sugimoto's tunnel.