At the highest point of a small island in the Seto Sea, in Kagawa Prefecture, roughly half-way between Osaka and Hiroshima, is my favourite public building:
Tadao Ando’s underground museum:
I’m enough of a tourism snob to have been delighted that my better half and I were the only Gaijin there. Maybe it’s not snobbery; maybe it’s some sort of frantic desire to see anew, and the presence of fellow tourists from one’s own neck of the woods is invariably a bellwether of meretriciousness.
I was not disappointed.
Being by Ando, the brutalist buried concrete museum is itself a work of art. A subterranean delight:
Numbers are strictly limited. You pay your entrance money to an attendant who is hiding in a concealed box. We really did struggle to find her; but the devotion to art on Naoshima is such that the trappings of commerce are viewed as acne, and therefore visually minimised.
Cameras, phones, forbidden. Photography strictly verboten. A blessed relief. Otherwise, I’d have been snapping away, unable to commit to the moment; the modern disease of linear time made Flickr.
Much deep bowing later, after our shoes had been politely confiscated
by one of the army of white clad attendants (who walk so lightly they seemed to glide), and replaced by what were quite like white hospital slippers, made of paper, we proceeded down a tunnel of Stygian gloom:
It was like being in a church, if the church itself was on drugs.
There are only 6 (permanent) exhibits in the museum. Which seems paltry, especially to anyone who has tackled a conventional museum with a dangerous mix of naivety and completism. One afternoon, I tried to “do” the Prado museum in Madrid, with its c. 22,000 exhibits. At a certain point, your FOMO negates your receptiveness and you’re a tick-the-box art zombie, nothing more.
6 exhibits, no FOMO, and what exhibits!
There’s a Monet’s Water Lilies as big as the frontage of a terraced house. There’s a TV screen that you can walk into and then, inside the screen, it’s an immersive kaleidoscope of pleasantly-disconcerting illusions. For some reason, I thought of the line in the Velvet Underground’s Pale Blue Eyes, “down for you is up”.
One room, Walter de Maria’s installation, Time/Timeless/No Time‘, is like wandering into a long-forgotten dream:
I still can’t work out whether it’s sinister or not. But in an age of shrieking secular certainties, we need ambiguous spaces like this more than ever.