Naoshima, light on a rainy day

How to talk about something which is an individual impression and which is forbidden to photograph or draw? Naoshima Chichibu Art Museum.

The rains were heaviest when I arrived on the island peaking with several squalls sending rain down the long winding roads as a rivers into the sea. No traffic moved until the intensity lessened to a hard rain. With a dozen others, I waited in the ferry terminal (link to pictures) till about ten a.m. after which we piled into a tiny shuttle bus and were motored twenty minutes up and through the hilly terrain to the Chichibu Art Museum where we purchased our tickets and walked the prerequisite half kilometer up the slope to the actual art galleries, designed by Tadao Ando.

The three galleries are built into the hill to preserve the landscape. I invite you to read about the three artists and their projects. James Turrell, Walter De Maria, and Claude Monet. You can not photographic what is inside (you must check in your bags and the gallery staff are watching for cell phones). All works have to do with light. No image can truly capture what is there. The number of people who can enter a gallery is limited, maximum eight, leading to a build of anticipation before you enter each work with time for your eyes to adjust to the specific lighting in each area.

One of three works by James Turrell is a room with eight marble steps leading up to a neon blue painting which, we discover upon ascending, is actually a room filled with blue light. We are invited to enter into the room, which by optical illusion, becomes a wide white void once you’re inside. The people in my group were using words like “floating”, “boundless”, ” limitless”. The effect is tranquil and recalled, for me, the idea that when we die we enter into a white light of love and warmth — you lose your orientation inside. Turn around and you’ll see a beautiful orange light painting, which is the room you were is just in, floating within the void — another optical illusion impossible to truly photograph.  (The image below is from Getty Images and is of a different James Turrell work to give you an idea of what I’m writing about. Clicking the image will take you to more of his work.)

Monet’s Water Lilies are in another gallery of smooth white light, a floor in white marble mosaic, and walls smoothed of all angles. Click this link for a 360 degree tour of the room. 

My favorite room was Walter De Maria’s. I managed to sneak two cell phone photos before I was caught — and curtly reprimanded. The room is illuminated by a rectangular hollow in the ceiling letting in natural light allowing the room to change minute by minute –there is no artificial light in the picture below. In the center of two ascending flights of stairs is a large round marble sculpture polished so finely that it mirrors all the light in the room like a fisheye photograph might. The effect is mesmerizing. I stood back from all angles within the space and observed: Every one was equally facinated by the effect. (The photo below is also from Getty Images. Click the photo for more work by the artist.)

By the end of my stay there I felt as though I’d meditated all day. I listened to other people echo this feeling. Even with the pouring rain and all the discomforts in getting there everyone found their own zen by the end. Below are the two images I was able to capture. Because the room is partly about the play of light I used this as an opportunity to see how light affects the great sphere (through Lightroom). That tiny spec in the center is me. I think of these as a composite self portrait. 🙂

art Page 1 art Page 3 art Page 4 art Page 5 art Page 2


11 Comments on “Naoshima, light on a rainy day

  1. Your photographs, as usual, are beautiful and compelling. Turrell’s rooms are intriguing; I want to go to there! I fell in love with Monet’s water lilies many years ago at Musée Marmottan in Paris, which had them installed in a round gallery. Amazing. And I love your variations on the theme of the De Maria installation here. You’re going to need your own show, Steven, and soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’d Naoshima, Steve. The entire island is a canvas.

      Turrell has another gallery there the concept would be rather long to explain but both times I’ve been the audience was all ooohs and ahhhs.

      I’ve not seen Monet’s work at the Marmottan, but they have several of his widest water lilies at The Orangerie set up as a panorama, which I have enjoyed. Ah, Paris! It’s my favorite city. I almost always use Paris as my entry point for Europe. I’ve thought to move there a few times, but I’d hate for it to lose that special spot in my heart by too much familiarity.

      Do you have another favorite museum? In Paris, I never get tired of the Museum Cluny with it’s medieval work.


      • Paris is my favorite city, as well. I sometimes cannot believe that I haven’t yet lived there… I like your theory, though: there are places which can lose their magic when you spend too much time ‘behind the curtain’. I don’t know the Cluny – medieval isn’t really my thing… we’ve got too much of that going on in American politics. 🙂 I love Europe’s grand old train stations, and that is the beginning of my love affair with the Musée d’Orsay. Buildings designed to house art collections often involve spectacle (Guggenheim, Bilbao)… Md’O is one of those rare pieces of extant architecture which was waiting for an art collection spectacular enough to be worthy of its home! Even if you’re not a fan of the Impressionists… how could you not fall madly in love with this museum? At the other end of the spectrum is the small, overlooked Musée Picasso in a little house in the Marais. This holds Picasso’s personal collection of art, along with the bequests of his own works from his heirs (to settle tax debts to the French government). The collection contains many sketches and studies and drawings of many of his painted masterpieces. And an extraordinary collection of Picasso’s ceramics and sculptures (for which he is not so well known). It’s an intimate look at the artist and his art from an different angle.

        Liked by 1 person

      • If you like the colors in stained glass, you’d love the Cluny.

        Oh, The Orsay! It is a grand building, isn’t it! I will always (baring Altzimers) remember that first time there.

        I can’t recall going to the Picasso Museum in Paris. I do remember going to one in Barcelona. Has this happened to you? Museums or exhibitions are desperate to up their appeal so they pull to gather whatever they can find from an artist and offer it up as part of their collection? It’s so common it’s turned me off. For example, I went to the Mondrian Museum in The Hague only to be disappointed. All the “good” pieces are housed in other collections. They just have the fringe, sketchbooks, and memorabilia, which can give you an overview of the evolution of thought/development but. . . .


  2. I love the reflective spheres; it’s almost like looking at an image in a mirror and the repeating images. Very nice, Steven.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I would love to see this place. But then, I would also love to visit the MONA in Tasmania. Although I shall never get to either, I can at least visit them in a vicarious kind of way. 🙂 And I love your endless study …

    Liked by 1 person

    • Either you’re a hardened realist or you’ve lost your ability to dream, M.R. Why can’t you go? Write another book and use the money. Myself, I am going to live well into my hundreds, continue to eat well and exercise and you can to.


  4. What a beautiful place! Ando is one of my favorite architects too. I’ll have to figure out a way to visit this incredible site.. thanks so much for writing about it.. (and sneaking in a photo or 2 of your own 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the comment. 🙂

      His work IS wonderful, isn’t it. I hope you get a chance to go one day. It’s worth a day trip on your way to better known places like Kyoto.


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