Thursday, 28 April 2016

More art than you can poke a stick at...

Over the weekend of April 15-18 I visited the Art Islands of Naoshima and Teshima, passing through Takamatsu on the way back to Nagoya.

I left Nagoya Daigaku at 2:30pm and missed a subway connection, which meant a 30 minute wait for the Shinkansen to Okayama. There’s only a slow train to Uno, so I arrived close to 7pm, 4.5 hours in total.

The only reason to stay at Uno is convenient access to the islands, especially in peak season when accommodation on these islands is booked out. However, the port town is pleasant enough. I stayed two nights at the Kikusui Ryokan, only because the options in Tamano were so limited. I rated it as an “OK place to stay in Uno”, giving it a score of 6.3. Easy to find using the GPS coordinates and, upon arrival, very helpful staff. However, there was a strong smell of smoke in the room and the road noise was annoying. Double-glazing would help, but the windows were open to reduce the smoke smell. No breakfast option, but that didn’t really bother me. Expensive considering the quality of the accommodation as I paid ¥9800—the same rate of the excellent JR Clement hotel in Takamatsu—for the first night and ¥6550 for second night. Next time I would book earlier and stay at the Uno Port Inn (ウノ ポート イン), which has a better location, a great host, and excellent local beer (until the IPA ran out). There is very good coffee at the wooden hut just outside the Inn, which opens at 8am—very early by Japanese standards—and there are very few other options for good coffee anywhere within about a 30km radius.

The map of Tamano restaurants was useful, and both restaurants I tried were excellent and inexpensive. The grilled fish set at Osakaya Shokudo was truly excellent. And the next night I ate at Izakaya Konaki Jijii. English was limited, but the restaurant manager offered to choose the dishes for me (checking whether there were things I could not eat), and his choices were great. Finally, Tama no Yu (瀬戸内温泉 たまの湯 ) is an excellent onsen, albeit a little expensive—I ended up going there both nights of my stay in Tamano.

I think that the big attractions on Naoshima and Teshima were too expensive and overhyped, e.g. The World’s Best Museum: Chichi Art Museum in Naoshima. Yes, it’s very good—but the best in the World? The five paintings from Claude Monet’s Water Lilies series are good too but, in my opinion, not his best work. Works from Monet’s Stacks of Wheat Series, which I’ve seen at the Art Institute of Chicago, are much better. The installation by American conceptual and minimal artist Walter De Maria—consisting of a central, polished granite sphere of 2.2 meters in diameter, combined with 27 gilded geometric sculptures strategically positioned around the room—is very impressive, but had the unfortunate effect of reminding me of cricket and especially the Wicket Gate in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy…
 … which was made up of 5 pieces. The left upright was made of steel, symbolising strength and power. The middle upright was wood, symbolising nature and spirituality. The column on the right was made of perspex, symbolising science and reason. They were joined across the top by two other pieces: the gold bail of prosperity, and the silver bail of peace. The Wicket Gate is the key to the Slo-Time Envelope that houses the planet of Krikkit and its sun. The pieces of the gate were scattered across the universe, following an attempt by the Krikkitmen to capture it and release their masters.
Perhaps De Maria is having a lend of us?

James Turrell’s Open Field (2000) was also very impressive: the two connected rooms—through the expert use of light and perspective—appears to be a solid canvas and only upon closer inspection does the illusion reveal itself.

I do agree that Tadao Ando’s architecture is spectacular—probably better than the art it contains. I had lunch at the restaurant, and eating it outside on a warm day was very pleasant indeed. The art in the Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum—and especially in the Lee Ufan Art Museum—is, I think, secondary to the architecture by Ando.

I didn’t have time to see much of The Art House Project—I did like the Go’o Shrine—but the Ando Museum was underwhelming. I ended up buying a Japanese/English book about Ando, which covers a wide spectrum of his work, and is very readable.

Finally, I loved Yayoi Kusama’s two giant pumpkins and—to end the day—I enjoyed the kitch of the 007 museum.

Next morning I arrived on Teshima on the early ferry and hired a bike to ride up to the Teshima Art Museum. The space is nice, but I actually enjoyed the setting, including the walk along the path around the mountain, more than the “museum” itself. This is really a large piece of architectural sculpture, not a museum and I found the cafe/shop to be, somehow, more impressive.

The clunky single-speed ladies bike was not fun to ride, but it did at least give me flexibility to see more art. There were three things I really liked on Teshima:
  • Tom Na H-iu by Mariko Mori—art responding to neutrino observations at Super Kamiokande
  • Teshima Yokoo House was probably my favourite of all sites I visited
  • Il Vento is entertaining and very photogenic
The fast ferry from Karato to Takamatsu was cancelled due to strong winds, so I had to first go to Tonosho on Shodoshima, and then get a second ferry to Takamatsu—arriving at sunset, which allowed me to take some nice photographs of a sculpture at the harbour and the castle ruins. Actually, I prefer ruins to artificial reconstructions.

I enjoyed Takamatsu much more than I expected. I can definitely recommend the JR Clement hotel and would stay there again. I had a harbour view room with a spectacular view in a room that was most comfortable. After dinner I visited the Melo bar which has some great Japanese beers. I tried The Pale and Baird Beer’s IPA and both were excellent.

It was cloudy with light rain on Monday morning in Takamatsu. I first visited Ritsurin Koen (栗林公園)—which was well worth it—and then had lunch at Umie. Excellent food and great coffee in a space that reminded me of Fremantle and the best cafes in Melbourne. And there were other great options nearby.

It took me just over 4 hours to get back to Nagoya from Takamatsu. Again I missed some connections, so I could have been back about 30 minutes earlier.

After getting back to Nagoya, since the weather was so nice I decided to visit the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art (豊田市美術館), which was truly fantastic—I’d rate it as the nicest and most accessible art museum I’ve ever visited—and it only cost ¥300! I guess this is subsidised by my purchase of 2 Toyota Corollas and 1 RAV4 …


As a result of this blog post, Matt from Artsy emailed me in July 2016 to  tell me about their Tadao Ando page.

1 comment:

  1. Your writing skills are so good mate. The way you defined your trip is just amazing. Keep posting the story of your trips.