Valley Gallery by Tadao Ando is Naoshima’s newest art pilgrimage site
The latest addition to Japan’s Benesse Art Site, Tadao Ando’s Valley Gallery is a geometric gem that makes the most of its remote setting
Merging nature, art and architecture, Valley Gallery, the latest build by Tadao Ando on Naoshima, is the Pritzker Prize-winning architect’s most conceptual design to date. It marks 30 years since his first building on the island, the Benesse House Museum, which was Naoshima’s first art museum, as well as a hotel. Nestled in the base of a deep valley, the new gallery is a modest structure with an angular steel roof and a trapezoidal floor plan informed by the landscape. Ando aimed ‘to create an independent architectural space while preserving as much of the existing topography and trees as possible’, in order to make the most of the site’s potential.
Covering a total floor area of 96 sq m, Valley Gallery consists of a white-walled room within an external concrete shell. Both are housed under an angular 12mm steel-plate roof reminiscent of origami folds, and accentuated by two corner openings at 30 degrees, framing the outside sky and revealing seasonal changes – wind, rain, sunshine or snow. The interior uses only natural illumination, with the angled skylights casting shadows on the concrete walls throughout the day, forming sharp silhouettes akin to a sundial. Ando says: ‘As a means of creating such an architectural space as a microcosm, I came up with the scheme of a space as simple and pure as a white canvas [with] natural light entering into it. A void in which everything superfluous has been erased, coloured by light that shifts with time and the seasons.’
His ninth building on the island, and part of the Benesse Art Site Naoshima, Valley Gallery is unlike any conventional art experience. Along the winding path that leads to the entrance, visitors pass a small lake with mirrored stainless steel spheres on its banks, part of Yayoi Kusama’s Narcissus Garden installation. Nearby is Tsuyoshi Ozawa’s Slag Buddha 88, which features 88 Buddha statuettes created using slag from illegally dumped industrial waste. Both pre-existing works, they have been on the island since 2006 and have recently been relocated and extended for the new gallery.
The uphill journey is intentionally elongated, allowing time for reflective pause in the surrounding nature, particularly in spring when azaleas and cherry trees are in bloom. ‘For a gallery to be a special place for art, the space on the approach to it is very important,’ adds Ando. ‘Like the entrance to a tea ceremony room, the slight change in the sequence of visitors’ steps leads their attention to the gallery.’
Ando’s architecture occupies the island’s most challenging and remote sites, connected by the theme of a ‘coexistence with nature’. It ranges from Chichu Art Museum, built into a mountaintop, to his own namesake museum, situated inside a 100-year-old timber house. With Valley Gallery, the architect intends to created a reflective, meditative atmosphere.
‘Like a Japanese shrine, we were aiming for an architecture with a certain spatiality that exists as a spiritual pillar for the people, even if on a modest scale,’ explains Ando. ‘By inserting stimulating artwork into this space, I hoped to create a microcosm, a small but infinitely deep space.’ The building exemplifies the trifecta of art, architecture and nature in harmony, making the journey to the island that much more profound. §