In his introductory remarks to the Afro–Eurasian Eclipse, one of his later suites for jazz orchestra, Duke Ellington remarked — this was in 1971 — that east and west were blending into one another, and everyone was in danger of losing his or her identity. Nowhere is it easier to observe that phenomenon than on the little island of Naoshima, in the Seto Inland Sea of Japan, which I visited last month.
Naoshima possesses sandy beaches and tranquil blue waters dotted with further islets stretching towards the horizon. But this is an especially heavenly spot for a relatively small and specialised, even eccentric, group of travellers. For more than two decades, Soichiro Fukutake, a billionaire businessman, has been transforming this tiny island — Naoshima is less than six square miles in area and has a population of around three and a half thousand — into a paradise for lovers of modern and contemporary art.
His collaborator in this has been Tadao Ando, an architect from Osaka, which is not so far away (at least on the bullet train). On Naoshima, to date, Ando has designed three separate museums, a hotel, and various other structures and projects all of which are linked by a system of shuttle buses — although there is much to be said for strolling from one to another. There are some marvellous things to be seen inside these buildings, but plenty more spread around the landscape outside.
It is hard to say. ‘Pumpkin’, an enlarged sculptural version of an everyday object, has a good deal in common with Oldenburg’s giant hamburgers and apple cores. On the other hand, it is deeply Japanese. A few days before, in an exhibition at the Suntory Museum in Tokyo, we had seen paintings by the 18th-century master Ito Jakuchu, including one scroll entitled ‘Vegetable Nirvana’ depicting onions, carrots, radishes plus a pumpkin on a heroic scale drawn in brilliantly loose and free ink brush strokes.The