Search for ‘Art’, ‘Japan’ and ‘Islands’, and the internet will point you to Naoshima, Benesse and images of giant multi-colored pumpkins. The destinations lying off the coast of Okayama and Kagawa are fast becoming the established go-to places for art enthusiasts coming to Japan. However, venture slightly further west and you’ll stumble on the quiet, unimposing island of Momoshima. This is home to Art Base Momoshima – an upcoming art destination in the Seto Inland Sea.
The brainchild of world-renowned artist Yukinori Yanagi, Art Base Momoshima only came into being in 2012. Yanagi was also the force behind the development of the Inujima art site off the coast of Okayama, which now enjoys the attention of thousands of visitors every year.
Backed by the local government, the mayor and the head of a medical device company, Yanagi went to work with a small team of four fellow artists. They converted a disused school building – a poignant reminder of the island’s ageing population – and turned it into a center for the creation and exhibition of modern art.
“Tokyo has limited space for artists to work in, especially if they want to make larger artworks,” explains Misaki Ohashi, one of the four original members who renovated the school with Yanagi. “We always have between three to fifteen artists in residence as well as permanent and temporary exhibits on show in the main building.”
Inside the Art Base you can find exhibits from Yanagi’s own work, alongside artworks from both established and upcoming artists.
In one of the converted classrooms, you can see ‘Eurasia’ from Yanagi’s ‘The World Flag Ant Farm’ series. An accompanying video shows how burrowing ants slowly deconstructed these national flags made of colored sand. Pieces from the same series are in collections around the world including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Tate in London.
Down the hallway, Noriyuki Haraguchi’s ‘Oil Pool’, created specially for this site, reflects everything on its dark mirror-like surface.
Stroll around the island and you come across the rusty defunct cinema that operated briefly before shutting its doors for decades. Now, along with the antique projectors and the retro coke machine still in place, it houses another of Yanagi’s installations – a coin-operated neon Japanese flag reflected in pool of water.
Looking around Art Base Momoshima, you notice the absence of barriers between you and the artwork. You also become aware of the thematic connection between the exhibits and the island itself. The residents of Momoshima may not be contributing works of art to Art Base, but their presence has a clear influence on the creative process. The artists seem to have conceived Momoshima as a microcosm for Japanese society as a whole.
“Although they might not participate in the art, most of the locals are excited that younger people are coming to the island because of the Art Base,” explains Ohashi, who has also joined the local volunteer fire brigade and drinks regularly with the local residents. “When we were renovating the school building, local people used to come and leave fresh vegetables at the entrance to keep us going!”
Even with an ample body of work already on show, Art Base Momoshima remains mostly undiscovered by art fans, both Japanese and from overseas. Apart from visitors to the autumn art festival and dedicated admirers of Yanagi’s work, Art Base Momoshima receives a fraction of the visitors that are drawn to the more established art islands in the Seto Inland Sea. But Art Base Momoshima is continuing to develop and is fast becoming the hidden gem in the Japanese art scene.
Of course the number of artworks and scale doesn’t compare to the other sites, but for a 30-minute ferry ride from Onomichi, it is a worthy detour. The ferry will be easy to spot – the Art Base designed the colorful sides of the vessel. Phone or email in advance and a member of staff will kindly guide you in English.
Location：Art Base Momoshima
Open by appointment only. Call or email ahead to book.
Address： 1440 Momoshima-cho, Onomichi City, Hiroshima, Japan 722-0061
Open hours：10:00 – 17:00
Holidays：Tuesdays & Wednesdays
Admission to the main exhibits cost 800 yen.
Words & Photography by Tom Miyagawa Coulton
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