Art Islands: Remote Destinations for Experiencing the Arts

Remote, intimate, and almost entirely focused on the arts, these diverse island communities in locales from Newfoundland to Abu Dhabi are some of our favorite destinations for spending quality time with artworks.

courtesy Benesse House
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Naoshima, Japan

Located in the Setouchi region of Japan’s Sento Sea, Naoshima began dwindling in population in the 1970s, but was repopulated by art lovers in 1992 with the opening of Benesse House—a hotel/museum complex designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando. Now, the tiny, art-packed island teems with blue-chip works thanks to the number of museums, art sites, installations, sculpture gardens, and well-curated hotels. It’s possible to visit Naoshima’s four Tadao Ando–designed museums, four James Turrells, and a dozen-plus works by Cy Twombly, Lee Ufan, and husband-wife duo Christo and Jeanne-Claude during a two-night stay—especially if you strategically bunk down at Benesse House’s Museum location (rooms from $350; Naoshima, Kagawa-gun; 81-87/892-3223), one of four Benesse properties on Naoshima’s southern shore. There, too, you can pass time privately with the greats, sleeping, for instance, under Sol LeWitts and Thomas Ruffs.

Most visitors wish they stayed longer to explore the island’s unique natural and cultural highlights where fantastic art appears at every turn, including the seven sites that make up the island’s Art House Project, a network of temples, galleries and Zen gardens that host exhibits. At the island’s port town, take a hot dip in the I Love Yu sento (hot bath), followed by dinner next door at the Shiyoa Diner where a plate of taco rice is served in the comfort of a 1950s Americana–styled dining room festooned with Margaret Keane’s Big Eyes paintings and rockabilly albums. When you plan your visit, keep in mind that Naoshima will host a number of exhibits during the Setouchi Triennale in 2016; for those who can’t get enough, extend your stay a few extra days to visit sister art islands Teishima and Inujima, too.