Benesse Art Site Naoshima

Soichiro Fukutake’s desire for change is so great, it has sent ripples from one side of a sea to the other. This story begins with a photo of two men standing in front of the sea in question. Both are middle aged, both wear suits, and both are bespectacled. They are framed by young pines, and long grass straggles over their polished shoes. One wears a pale suit, white shirt, and a striped tie. He holds an architectural plan. The other is older and wears a dark suit. He is pointing to something out of shot. It is 1985. The men are Chikatsugu Miyake, mayor of Naoshima Island at the time, and a new local landowner; Tetsuhiko Fukutake, Soichiro’s father. In the photo, the sea is silvery under a champagne sky. But don’t let it fool you. The factories of Kobe, Ōsaka, and Hiroshima have been pouring their poisons into these waters for decades. The whales don’t come to play here any more. The island itself, too, is a careworn place. As Fukutake and Miyake gesticulate dreams of uniting art, architecture, and nature here, they are well aware all three will require a helping hand.

Refusing to play second fiddle to architecture, the island’s artworks spill from the containment of Benesse House, and try out new homes in the wild

The Seto Inland Sea looks as though it was created by tearing Shikoku from Honshū, leaving a scattering of crumbs in its wake. Naoshima is one of these crumbs. It nestles in tight to the port of Uno in Honshū, yet is administered from Takamatsu on more distant Shikoku. The island is small, with a population of a scant few thousand in a handful of urban clusters forming a belt around its middle, separating the grey concrete of the refineries in the north from the green of the undeveloped south, where Tetsuhiko bought his swathe of land. Fast forward four years, and Fukutake Senior has gone. His empire of cram schools and textbooks has passed into the hands of his son, who will soon rename it Benesse, from a blend of the Latin bene ‘well’ and esse ‘being’. Soichiro has realised his father’s dream of building an international camp for children with rows of yurts imported from Mongolia. On a hump of grass, like a child’s drawing come to life, a cat perches, four paws neat, on the webbed feet of an upturned frog. The cat has one black eye, one pink, a red nose, orange body, and a blue curl of a tail. The frog is no less garish. The needles of a single evergreen outline them both against the sea, like Our Lady of Guadelupe’s halo. Karel Appel’s Frog and Cat is Soichiro’s first permanent gift to the island.

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