Contemporary Art

Paris recently has seen two different exhibitions celebrating Tadao Ando: an exceptional master of architecture and a friend, who was also in charge of the design of both a private residence of mine and the Fabrica di Villorba complex. One of the two events was dedicated to Ando’s work in Naoshima, a Japanese island that, since the Eighties, has been devoted to contemporary art. A magical and unique place, one-of-a-kind in the world, the vision of an enlightened entrepreneur, Tetsuhiko Fukutake, and his son Soichiro Fukutake. This island has a fascinating story I’d like to tell you more about.

In the Fifties, Tetsuhiko Fukutake founded in Japan – back then a nation left worn-out and annihilated by WW2 – a scholastic publishing company, Fukutake Publishing, now known as Benesse Corporation. Over the years, he managed to turn a small enterprise into a business empire, publishing and delivering textbooks and correspondence courses by mail, helping generations of Japanese kids and teenagers to gain an education in their formative years. Always keeping in mind, which might sound mad to many of today’s entrepreneurs, that economy should be at the service of culture, and not the contrary. Rather than self-serving profits, people should be at the core of a business, which could be almost be considered as a humanist stance from the Land of the Rising Sun.

Towards the mid-Eighties, Tetsuhiko – a keen contemporary art collector since the Seventies – started to outline his dream project: to consecrate the island of Naoshima to contemporary art. By turning it into a place where to put his artwork and personal collection on display, but also where to welcome the world’s most important living artists. A philanthropist’s dream, an incredible vision that unfortunately he didn’t get to fully enjoy. Tetsuhiko passed away in 1986, while Tadao Ando’s work on the island, including the Benesse House Museum, was terminated only in 1992, after Soichiro Fukutake had already replaced his father as the family-run company’s leader. Nevertheless, with the establishment of the much-needed dream place craved by many creative spirits around the world and by art itself, a legacy was created.