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Over the past two decades, the small island of Naoshima has become one of Japan's most interesting contemporary art scenes. There, travelers can discover the celebrated Benesse House, an art museum that welcomes guests to stay the night, just as it lets art spill outside its walls.
Life imitates art
Even before its opening, the Benesse House carried with it a certain gravitas, having been designed by the famous Japanese architect Tadao Ando. It was part of a larger plan to develop the south side of the island into a cultural area, and the architect's work - defined by clean, clear lines and flowing, open spaces - serves as a graceful artistic statement before people ever step inside. It is just the tip of the iceberg for what awaits visitors.
The artwork in the museum is contemporary and decidedly international. Various radical works by Jackson Pollock and Cy Twombly sit next to works by Japanese artists such as Shinro Ohtake and Yukinori Yanagi. The collection itself, set on this captivating island, is more than enough to draw tourists to its shores. However, an intriguing distinction of the museum is the attached hotel, which works to put residents as close to the art as one can hope to get.
Apart from granting special access to the halls and exhibitions, the rooms in the attached hotel feature drawings, paintings and prints by artists who are on display in the museum.
To the shores
Another captivating aspect of the Benesse House is its willingness to break down its own walls. Shortly after the original structure was completed, the Benesse House began expanding its reach with outdoor artworks. By 1996, it was inviting artists to create unique works specifically to be displayed around its grounds. A couple of years later, the museum started installing art around the island of Naoshima. Now, Benesse Art Site Naoshima is a catch-all term for series of museums, events and installations across surrounding islands in the sea, including Naoshima, Teshima and Inujmia.
Travelers can indulge in the Naoshima bath, which is part-bathing house, part-art museum. A complex interactive installation sits in the courtyard of a now-defunct elementary school. There's even a project to convert old houses into gallery spaces. The culmination of this artistic spread is what Frommer's called a "unique symbiotic relationship between natural scenic beauty and art." While the travel guide recommends at least six hours to explore Naoshima, it's now quite easy to stay more than a few nights.
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