Contemporary art in Japan is thriving. Some art works are found in museums while others can be enjoyed at periodically held art festivals. In particular, the area between Okayama and Kagawa prefectures in the Seto Inland Sea has gained the reputation of being a hotbed for contemporary art; several islands in the area are home to museums and installations exhibiting contemporary art. The following is a list of some places and events where contemporary art can be enjoyed:
The Echigo Tsumari Art Triennale started in the year 2000 and is held once every three years in the rural Echigo-Tsumari region of Niigata Prefecture. Dozens of art pieces are scattered across the region, some in the middle of a rice fields, others in abandoned buildings. Visitors travel the area to get to the art works, and in the process get to enjoy the beauty of the rural countryside. Some artworks are preserved as permanent exhibits, justifying a visit also outside of the festival periods.
The Setouchi Triennale is presented by the same organizers who brought about the Echigo Tsumari Art Triennale and has the same concept. Since 2010, the festival has been held held every three years on a dozen islands in the Seto Inland Sea. Many intriguing creations can be enjoyed at the event, some housed in museums, others at make-shift shelters or open air spaces. Visitors can island-hop to see the art, and at the same time take pleasure in the island scenery.
The Nakanojo Biennale is held once every two years in the mountainous northern region of Gunma Prefecture. Over a hundred contemporary artworks, mostly by artists from the Kanto Region, are installed at venues scattered across the rural town, many of which are abandoned buildings, including a former sake brewery, former ryokan and former train station. The festival draws visitors to enjoy not only the art but also the rustic charm of rural Japan.
Seto Inland Sea Area
The Seto Inland Sea between Kagawa and Okayama Prefectures hosts the highest concentration of contemporary art sites in Japan. The art movement in the region was started by the Benesse Corporation in the 1990s, when it installed museums and created art projects on Naoshima Island. More museums were later built on Naoshima and its nearby islands, and thanks to the Setouchi Triennale the art has now spread to a dozen islands in the Seto Inland Sea. Below is a short introduction of just the three most prominent ones:
Naoshima Island is the leading destination for contemporary art in Japan. It is known for multiple fascinating museums built by Ando Tadao and for various other art projects. The island is one of the main venues of the Setouchi Triennale, displaying one of the highest densities of artworks among the participating islands and ports.
Like nearby Naoshima, Inujima Island has become known as a site for contemporary art in recent years. The main attraction is an art museum that was tastefully incorporated into the ruins of the island's former copper refinery. A few other art works are scattered across the small, peaceful village on the island.
Teshima Island joined Naoshima and Inujima as an exciting destination for contemporary art in recent years. The island is home to several permanent installations, including the Teshima Art Museum, one of the most intriguing contemporary artworks in Japan.
The Aomori Museum of Art is a modern art museum just outside of downtown Aomori City. It has a collection of imaginative art pieces, including three huge paintings by Chagall, and a huge 8.5 meter tall white dog statue artistically positioned within bare concrete walls.
The Towada Art Center, located about 35 kilometers northeast of Lake Towada in central Towada City, features about twenty intriguing contemporary art pieces by local and international artists. Space outside of the rooms is also cleverly utilized to display exhibits, adding an element of surprise for visitors.
As its name suggests, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art in Kanazawa features a variety of avant-garde art works within a building of modern interior decor. It exhibits creations of acclaimed contemporary artists from Japan and all over the world. A well known permanent exhibit is Leandro Erlich's "Swimming Pool", where optical illusion causes people to appear to be underwater. The museum hosts temporary exhibitions of recently designed art pieces as well.
The National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo displays works of modern art (from the Meiji Period on) by Japanese artists. The museum has a fine art gallery as well as a design and craft gallery, which host permanent and temporary exhibitions. Contemporary art makes up a minority of the museum's collection, but it is also represented.
The Mori Art Museum hosts exhibitions by local and international contemporary artists. The museum makes a point of keeping the art easily accessible to the general public rather than making it overly obscure or esoteric. It is located on the top floor of the Mori Tower in Roppongi Hills, and a visit is usually combined with one to the neighboring observation deck, which affords nice views over Tokyo.
Surrounded by greenery near Ikaho Onsen in Gunma Prefecture, the Hara Museum ARC displays a rotating exhibition of contemporary art by both Japanese and foreign artists. Some permanent art pieces are also placed outside around the museum grounds.
The Hakone Open Air Museum creates a harmonic balance of nature and art by exhibiting various sculptures on its spacious grounds in combination with beautiful views of the surrounding valley and mountains. The museum also has a few indoor galleries with various forms of contemporary art on display. In addition, there are some playgrounds for children with creative and interesting designs.
The Enoura Observatory is a unique outdoor museum, featuring contemporary art installations, fascinating architecture and nice observation decks in the coastal hills south of central Odawara City, not far from Hakone.