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An art island in Japan has become the ultimate place to discover Yayoi Kusama’s pumpkins


Art exists everywhere, not just in museums. Grace Banks has delved into the best places in the world to experience art off the beaten track in the book Art Escapes (Gestalten), highlighting some of the best works by artists including Niki de Saint Phalle, Sol LeWitt and Mark Rothko, in forests, streets and even churches. As we begin to plan our summer vacations, we’re highlighting some of the locations in Art Escapes that deserve a place on your summer itinerary.

In her 2003 memoir Infinity Net the artist Yayoi Kusama describes the breakthrough moment in which she discovered the medium that’s cemented her place as one of the most important artists in the world. “I would confront the spirit of the pumpkin” she writes ― “Forgetting everything else and concentrating my mind entirely on the form before me.”. Surrounded by the cerulean Seto Sea, in Naoshima Island, Kusama has placed her pumpkins within the ultimate backdrop to confront her iconic art.

With it’s population of just over 3,000, it’s the balmy breeze and the lapping sea on this quiet island that transforms Kusama’s pumpkins into an unparalleled experience. This tropical island has now become a destination for those wanting a deeper, immersive understanding of the artist. Getting to the island is a test of devotion in itself, with visitors making the twenty minute boat ride from Tamano City, in the south of Japan, to Miyanoura Port on the west of Naoshima island. It’s worth the adventure, on the approach to Miyanoura Port visitors can spot Kusama’s red pumpkin on the horizon as it towers over the coastline with the artist’s trademark polka dots lining the sides. The island is only five miles in diameter, and a fifteen minute walk away is the second of Kusama’s sculptures, her yellow pumpkin. Seemingly staring out to sea, she wanted to use Naoshima’s isolation and hot climate to encourage a feeling of joy and for viewers to feel how she herself described feeling: “just another dot in the universe”.

Naoshima has been nicknamed Japan’s “art island” for a reason. Along with Kusama’s sculptures, The Art House Project, which turns historical houses into works of art, and the ​​Miyanoura Gallery 6 spotlighting emerging Japanese artists including Yuki Iiyama and Yoshinori Niwa, makes this a destination for those who want to be involved in art, not just stare at it on a wall. Moving around such captivating art, it’s Kusama’s two pumpkins that still endure as the island’s most visited art works. Against the Seto Sea and the conversation of a diverse group of visitors providing background noise, it’s hard to image Kusama’s pumpkins packing such a punch anywhere other than Naoshima.

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