Friday, April 2, 2010

Art Encounters: THE JAPAN TOUR

TO REGISTER click here!

Join me, Japan specialist and art enthusiast, Anne Alene, on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure of Japan. My aim is bring alive Japan's artistic culture, people and beauty in a 12-night 13-day travel adventure.

As you may know, I am a Japan specialist designing and leading customized trips to Japan for groups and individuals, museum benefactors, art collectors and cultural organizations. I command near-native fluency in Japanese, having studied, lived in Japan, and worked between Japan and the US for over twenty years. For over ten of the twenty years I have been leading specialized trips to Japan. I hold degrees, training and certifications in Asian Studies, Japanese language, Psychology, Japanese and Western art history and contemporary art; and is also a practitioner of Omotesenke Tea Ceremony



The tour will commence in Tokyo on the evening of Saturday October 9 at the Mitsui Garden Ginza Premier Hotel, situated near to the Ginza and Tokyo Station.

I am organizing special visits which will make the Tokyo portion of the tour a particularly rich encounter with the city’s artists and personalities. We will have exclusive access to private museums, exhibitions and collections, including an opportunity to discover Japan's expansive visions for promoting the Japanese and international contemporary art scenes.

Together we will explore the recent developments of the city, including Japan's ingenious collaboration of star architecture and international shopping , and its most convincing illustration known as Omotesando Boulevard. Omotesando is the Tokyo's Champs Elysées, where within the last five years, Herzog & de Meuron, Toyo Ito (see adjacent photo), SANAA partners Ryue Nishizawa and Kazuyo Sejima, Tadao Ando, Jun Aoki and Kengo Kuma have created a showcase of retail and residential development in collaboration with major designers Prada, Tod's, Dior, Louis Vuitton to name a few.

The unique flair that each architect has designed for these leading designers has forever transformed the shopping experience. For example, a nostalgic housing development initiated by the Imperial Household after WWII withstood earthquakes and disaster for fifty years until Tadao Ando razed the construction to create the new Omotesando Hills housing three underground levels of chic boutiques and eateries, while occupying an awkward triangular real estate plot at the center of the great boulevard’s map.

In addition, a handful of new museum complexes and galleries which debuted between 2004 and 2007 are worth exploring in the fashionable districts of Roppongi Hills and Mid-Town including the National Art Centre, Suntory Museum of Art and Tadao Ando's 21_21 Design Center. A neighborhood addition in 2004 is the Mori Art Museum which is perched on the top of the fifty-four story Mori Tower designed by American Richard Gluckman. Mori Tower and Mori Art Museum are the central pillar of Roppongi Hills, a vast 28-acre development believed to be the most expensive urban regeneration project ever undertaken and a culmination of the vision and philosophy of real estate magnate Minoru Mori.

Visiting the Tokyo National Museum of Art to delve into the art history of Japan will also be heightened by the most perfect expression of the architecture of our times, the adjacent Gallery of Horyu-ji Treasures, which is a sublime pavilion seeming to float on a sheet of water. Designed by the Museum of Modern Art’s star architect Yoshio Taniguchi, the Gallery opened in July 1999 as storage for precious Buddha statues and other ancient objects of historic significance belonging to Nara’s Horyu-ji Temple.

Gauging the artist scene of Tokyo will be crucial to the program, including visits to well-known contemporary artists, schedule permitting, and hope to include artists such as Tabaimo, Takashi Murakami, and others who have burst out onto the international scene in recent years.

In no other valid contemporary art destination is a country’s historic culture and traditions as relevant as it is in Japan. I shall be offering a variety of attractions at the beginning or end of the day’s main events. In Tokyo, these attractions will include visits to a kabuki theatre performance, a neighborhood Japanese bath house and to the "otaku" neighborhoods.

Otaku is a Japanese pulp fiction souvenir business, primarily selling anime film, manga comics, and was influential in Takashi Murakami's source materials for his popular paintings, sculptures, video works, and even for the exclusive line of Louis Vuitton accessories.

I will also offer a dawn visit to Tsukiji Wholesale Market, where the daily tuna auction is one of the most extraordinary spectacles of the city and involves a bidding frenzy matched only by the contemporary art market of our times.

We will have brunch at the Park Hyatt Hotel, famed for its views across the Kanto Plain to Mount Fuji and the famous bar where Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson puzzled the incomprehension of an unfamiliar culture in “Lost in Translation”, before boarding the Shinkansen bullet train for the next chapters of the tour, including to Izu Peninsula, Ise Peninsula, Kyoto, and the Inland Sea for the Setouchi International Art Festival.



On our way to Kyoto, we will make a one night, two day expedition by train and coach.

Our first stop out of Tokyo will be to experience in situ the works of contemporary painter Hiroshi Senju (b. 1958) installed in a temple, situated on the Izu Peninsula along the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Senju painted the entire temple interior, executing 77 sliding panels for the for the temple, primarily images of waterfalls and landscapes, evoking the monumental force and calm, timeless presence of nature. He applies finely ground pigments of natural materials and medium to mounted handmade paper. Senju was the first Asian artist to receive an individual fine arts award at the Venice Biennale for his acclaimed Waterfall paintings in 1995. Numerous museums collect his work including MOCA Los Angeles and he is engaging in numerous projects in Japan, signifying his work as the next generation of Japanese painting to inspire both contemporary and traditional spaces.

We will spend the night on the Izu Peninsula eating traditional banquet fare and enjoying healing waters of our hot spring resort.

Our second adventure out of Tokyo will be to Ise Grand Shrine, the most important Shinto Shrines to the Japanese people and their origins. We will delve into its spiritual and historic associations and encounter its unique architecture and renewal rituals. The main structure of the Inner Shrine is designed in a special architectural style prohibited for any other, razed and rebuilt every 20 years in a rite employing artisans from all over Japan, as prayer for peace on earth.



The third chapter of our tour will be to the ancient capital of Kyoto where we shall spend four nights and three days exploring a selection of its finest temples and gardens. Our stay will include visits to the moss garden of Saiho-ji, the rock garden of Ryoan-ji and to the Temple of Sanjusangendo, otherwise known as the Hall of Thirty-Three Bays. The Sanjusangendo great chamber houses a forest of gilded wooden statues and is one of the most exhilarating encounters with statuary in any civilization and the subject of an extended series of photographs by Hiroshi Sugimoto.

We will also be conducting a very special visit, still under a code name, involving an architectural landmark unknown to most visitors and only accessible by special permission, offering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the quintessential Japanese aesthetic traditions in its absolute highest form.

Cultural activities will include a walking tour of the historic geisha neighborhoods and a private tea ceremony (sado) as taught by Sen no Rikyu which emphasizes a quiescent spirituality. We will also offer a demonstration of ancient and modern kimonos. Many private visits will be arranged by Anne, including to contemporary artists Miwa Yanagi and Tomoko Sawada, diaries permitting.

Throughout our journey will be dining venues staged to frame the vast experience offered by the Japanese palate and Kyoto promises to be an important destination to experience Japanese cuisine at its ultimate moments. Some of the finest restaurants in Kyoto boast interiors of natural landscapes of woods, water, bamboo trees, rock gardens and private tatami mat dining rooms. Various dishes are served in meticulously chosen vessels ranging from a simple lacquered bowl to a bamboo stalk.

One day will be dedicated to venturing outside of Kyoto proper to the Miho Museum and the recently redesigned Sagawa Art Museum.

The Miho Museum was designed by the distinguished architect I M Pei as a temple for the private collection of ancient and oriental art formed by Mihoko Koyama. Koyama was the spiritual leader of Shinji Shumeikai, a religion founded in 1970. With the founder’s recent death, her daughter Hiroko becomes the order’s living goddess. In a journey worthy of Indiana Jones and his quest for the Holy Grail, the museum is reached by walking along a curving tunnel cut through a mountain and across a long suspension bridge over a valley. It may be the most spectacular gateway to any museum in the world.

The Sagawa Art Museum is dedicated to displaying tea wares designed by the Raku family of 14 generations and exhibitions of leading contemporary ceramicists. Lending to a spiritual experience from the simple process of viewing tea bowls, here Japanese minimalist aesthetics and ancient tea ceremony wares have been united, including interior water features, natural lighting, rooms devoted to one or two bowls, and integrating the surrounding landscape into interior displays.


Floating on the Inland Sea of Japan and accessible only by ferry boat, the fabled island of Naoshima is one of the most surprising, and rewarding, contemporary art destinations in Asia and has become the perfect refuge for the pursuit of art on this gorgeous coastal landscape.

On the southern shores of Naoshima small island, Soichiro Fukutake, chairman of Benesse Corporation, has accumulated an extraordinary collection of masterpieces by David Hockney, Jasper Johns, Jannis Kounellis, Richard Long, Bruce Nauman, Cy Twombly, Yayoi Kusama, Tatsuo Miyajima, Hiroshi Senju, Yoshihiro Suda, Hiroshi Sugimoto and Cai Guo-Qiang. The art is displayed on the beach, in restored domestic or storage barn properties in the village, and in two museums designed by Benesse house architect, Tadao Ando.

Our hotel is situated just a short beach walk from Yayoi Kusama’s spotted yellow pumpkin, which appears to have alighted on a jetty projecting into the sea. Brightly painted sculptures by Karel Appel and Nikki de Sainte-Phalle, a glass pavilion by Dan Graham and a kinetic sculpture of moving stainless steel rods by George Rickey are studded around the garden in front of the hotel.

Another Ando projects to experience is the Chichu Art Museum opened in July 2004 and juxtaposes the work of just three artists: Walter de Maria, who has conceived a room installation worthy of the shrine of a lost civilization; James Turrell, who is represented by three light environments from different stages of his career; and Claude Monet, for whom the museum has created an arrangement of five Nymphéas paintings from the end of his career, including a wide screen Waterlily Pond diptych (c.1915-1920).

Our biggest aim while at Naoshima is to participate in the Setouchi International Art Festival, which marks the arrival of latest projects commissioned by Soichiro Fukutake including additional museums and art installations not only on Naoshima but also on seven neighboring islands

We shall be venturing between Naoshima and a few neighboring islands by private ferry, including a walk through the Inujima Refinery Museum Project (April 2008) with Yukinori Yanagi, famed for his ant farm installations of the Venice Biennale, has been working upon a new project with young star architect Hiroshi Sambuichi. The two had been working in the ruins of a former copper refinery on the small island of Inujima on one of the great Land Art reclamation projects of our time.


The closing chapter of the Japan tour begins with a transit from Naoshima to Osaka through the rural region of Bizen, where we shall be visit the largest kiln in the world, designed and built along medieval kiln standards by a ceramicist Mori Togaku. A visit to such a colossal structure and project will answer many questions of our prior encounters with vessels and visual aesthetics in Japanese life, cuisine and craft while visiting Japan.

Upon arriving in Osaka, we will visit the National Museum of Art which opened in new quarters designed by Cesar Pelli in November 2004. Unusually, for an architect famed for his assertive statements in the sky (including the distinctive towers of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and London’s Canary Wharf), this museum is situated entirely underground. Its profile, however, is immediately recognizable through a stainless steel lattice which resembles the skeletal structure of a bird in flight.

Time and diary permitting, our short day in Osaka could produce a visit to the studio of Tadao Ando or Yasumasa Morimura, the latter whose wardrobe of changing self-portrait personalities is located beneath the city’s railway arches.



Depending upon one’s flight arrangements, our gateway airport will be Osaka-Kansai, designed by Renzo Piano and one of the most unique flying experiences in Asia, or Tokyo-Narita International Airport

For more information, please inquire to

TO REGISTER click here!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Japan Celebrates The Power of Art To Transform Communities

The Setouchi International Art Festival opens July 19 and concludes October 31 2010

To participate in an exclusive Japan travel program October 9 - 21 2010 to attend the festival, please contact Anne Geismann Alene at

July 19 2010 marks the start of the Setouchi International Art Festival, a 100-day art bonanza, and is certain to be a gratifying destination and awe-inspiring experience for visitors. As Indian Jones sought far and wide for the Holy Grail, likewise, the Festival event will take the adventurous art traveler away from familiar urban scenes and through tidy rural landscapes to meet a wind-blown mysterious sea highway. Traversing one island shore to the next will offer numerous discoveries of art and world-class architectural treasures, all in the spirit of bringing people together to celebrate local culture and creativity.

The Festival is hosted by Executive Producer Soichiro Fukutake (b. 1945) and Chairman of the Fukutake Museum Foundation. In 1986, Fukutake inherited reign as CEO and expanded Fukutake Publishing, his father’s literary education company, to become Benesse Corporation. Benesse, meaning good life in Italian, is best known for distance learning and test preparation schools including the worldwide chain of Berlitz language schools. Fukutake is 19th amongst the top forty billionaires of Japan with a net worth of 1.6 billion US dollars, and ranks 522nd of the world’s 793 billionaires in 2009 as reported by Forbes magazine.

Access to the Festival is a swift three-hour ride by high-speed Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo. The bullet train station stop at Okayama City (pop. est. 200,000) is Fukutake’s hometown and Benesse’s corporate headquarters. Far from neon skyscrapers, Okayama station connects to a 45-minute local train ride into the countryside. The last train stop is a mere hundred feet from the shore of the central Seto Inland Sea, and a short walk to the port connects to a 15-minute ferry ride and to the main island of Naoshima.

The Seto Inland Sea is both a national park and major industrial region, characterized by an irregular shoreline and dotted with nearly 1000 small islands, extending as far as 250 miles east to west and at certain points as wide as 40 miles across. The Inland Sea travels between two of the five largest islands of the Japanese archipelago, Kyuushu and Shikoku. The Inland Sea starts from the largest island Awajishima at the tip of northeastern Shikoku and travels west and south to the tip of Kyuushu to meet with the Pacific Ocean once again. The Inland Sea is home to historical shogun battles and ancient shrines, and one of the largest transportation highways in East Asia.

Naoshima is home to 3000 residents, a small industry for salt, squid and sea bream farming, and since World War II, has served as a satellite production site for Mitsubishi copper-smelting and refinery industry. In medieval times, Naoshima monitored sea traffic and police piracy for the local daimyo warlord’s sea territory.

But, Naoshima is also now a major hub for artistic and architectural genius, the origins of Fukutake’s Benesse Art Site. Naoshima’s Benesse Art Site concept has expanded its influence out to seven more small surrounding islands and even across the shores to Shikoku Island’s port city Takamatsu. The Festival celebration will provide a web-like network of small boats which will transport visitors to commune with each of the newly featured installations.

Setouchi International Art Festival celebrates over twenty years since Fukutake and the regional government officials took initiative to experiment with the impact of art on the local region. In 1986, Fukutake broke ground on the main island of Naoshima, chanting the mantra from local to international while bringing together talented and sympathetic artists and architects to plan a community-based international art site. No one yet in the history of Japan (or possibly the world) has been as successful as Fukutake in shifting the focus from international exhibitions held in large urban centers such as Tokyo and regenerating the tiny fishing islands and its surrounding cities and towns suffering from depopulation.

Fukutake has transformed the local island culture into an “island museum,” creating jobs, restoring the area, facilitating local exchange, and rewriting the discourse for how and where art can be experienced. Benesse Art Site transformed Naoshima to accommodate visitors from all over Japan and the world, proving Naoshima as one of the greatest contemporary art and cultural experiences on the planet.

Until recent, a typical visitor’s pilgrimage is to spend a minimum of one day and one night at Benesse House, the original museum-hotel designed by house architect Tadao Ando. Hotel rooms and galleries co-exist with views of the Inland Sea from all sides. Fukutake has accumulated an extraordinary collection of masterpieces by David Hockney, Jasper Johns, Jannis Kounellis, Richard Long, Bruce Nauman, Cy Twombly, Yayoi Kusama, and Cai Guo-Qiang.

The art is displayed not only within the museum-hotel, but also along the beach, and inside of restored properties called House Projects in the island village: The original House Projects feature artists: Tatsuo Miyajima whose Sea of Time (1998) is a flickering LED counter installation set in a shallow pool of an inside courtyard once a seafood wholesaler merchant home; James Turrell whose Back Side of the Moon (1999) is a nearly imperceptible black environment of a restored Temple; and Hiroshi Sugimoto whose Appropriate Proportion (2002) is the renovation of neighborhood Go’o Shinto Shrine and its elaboration with an entrance portico, a flight of glass stairs and a subterranean sanctuary. Further installations by painter Hiroshi Senju, Shinro Ohtake and Yoshihiro Suda were installed in restored properties in 2006

A full-time youthful staff has been organized from all over Japan to function as the curatorial, logistical, and operational team of the island museum and accommodation facilities. Most staff is given residence on Naoshima in dormitories vacated since Mitsubishi’s downsizing and enjoy luxuries of daily meals cooked by neighboring villagers. Cheerful senior residents of Naoshima have been hired to serve as stewards of the House Projects manning admissions throughout the operating hours and as bus drivers for easy transportation around the island.

A second museum also designed by Tadao Ando, Chichu Art Museum opened July 2004, which juxtaposes the work of just three artists: Walter de Maria who has conceived a room installation worthy of a shrine of a lost civilization; James Turrell who created three light environments from different intervals of his career; and Claude Monet for whom the museum has created an arrangement of five Nymphéas paintings from the final chapter of his artistic activity c. 1915-1920 including a widescreen Waterlily Pond diptych.

In addition, early 2008 marked the opening of a revolutionary eco-museum project of Hiroshi Sambuichi on the small island of Inujima. Under the direction of Fukutake, Sambuichi and his single collaborating artist, Yukinori Yanagi, cleverly used the ruins of a former copper refinery to build a museum and single-artist installation which is symbiotically designed to coexist with the earth and building materials. The museum’s design operates a natural climate-control system and even grows its own plants fertilized by the waste filtering system, while Yanagi’s artwork is primarily of recycled personal materials of legendary Yukio Mishima. Inujima easily moves to first place as one of the great Land Art reclamation projects of our era. Yukinori Yanagi seized the attention of the contemporary art market with World Ant Farm exhibited at the Venice Biennale, comprising a matrix of 80 Perspex boxes linked by tubes and housing national flags carefully constructed in colored sand. The performance work utilized ant colonies to burrow tunnels and deposit sand particles in a central chamber which eroded the symbolic flags of national identity.

But, July 2010 begins the most ambitious event ever in Benesse’s artistic history, unveiling the most recent projects, which will be exhibited across the rice fields, beaches, wooden houses and shrines of Fukutake’s ever-expanding island art community. The festival draws in 45 artistic geniuses from around the world and Japan. Japan’s finest architects, designers and artists are on board, including nationals Kenya Hara, Rei Naito, Mariko Mori, and Shinro Ohtake, collaborating alongside with international artists such as Olafur Eliasson, Christian Boltanski, Leandro Erlich, Janet Cardiff and George Bures-Miller.

The award-winning SANAA partner architects (New York New Museum completed 2007), Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, will debut two new art venues: Inujima Art Project “Village” (Sejima in collaboration with artist Yukinori Yanagi) and Teshima Art Project “Museum” (Nishizawa works with artist Rei Naito). Teshima was once home to Mitsubishi’s toxic waste dumps while Inujima has a population of only fifty. Christian Boltanski recorded and collected the sound of heartbeats of people around the world as part of his work featured on Teshima. Also, on Naoshima, prolific graffiti artist, Shinro Ohtake designed a fully operational Naoshima Public Bath teaming up with graf, Yoshitomo Nara’s head design company. Tadao Ando will open a venue devoted to the great minimalist Korean-Japanese artist Lee Ufan. The blossoming art haven of Setouchi International Art Festival and Benesse Art Site indeed lie distant from the capital in geography but continue to seek only to embrace concepts essential to rural Japan and promote island culture by merging aspects of art and architecture closely linked to the nature and history of the site.

There is little superficial evidence despite a laundry list of development, and island life still remains provincial, self-contained, quiet and simple, but Fukutake and local officials have helped the islands overcome the threat of extinction which loomed a little over 20 years ago. The Festival slows down the pace for visitors, affirms art’s ability to restore and renew, and creates unforgettable exchange with the local population and international art. The Setouchi International Art Festival will integrate itself into Fukutake’s overall plan and continue to connect people from all over Japan and the world. An area once on the endangered species list is inspiring communities all over Japan to find new ways to encourage rural economies and pilgrims to revisit forgotten locales and even forgotten aspects of themselves.