NEW YORK - As the art world has grown increasingly and fascinatingly international, with art fairs and biennials circling the globe, travel has become a mainstay for its denizens. There is the accepted circuit: New York and London for the auctions; Basel, Miami, London, New York and Hong Kong for the fairs; Venice, Gwangju, Sharjah, Sydney, Lyon, Istanbul, even New Orleans, among seemingly countless others, for biennials. But for the true art pilgrims, a yearning to discover the purest art experiences, combined no doubt with a touch of wanderlust, has been leading them to some of the farthest reaches of the Earth, where even Gulfstreams cannot land. These journeys demand sacrifice: time, occasionally uncomfortable modes of transportation, and sometimes even sensible shoes. But they represent the unique visions of their creators, whether artists or collectors, who are driven to share their troves with similarly passionate souls.
The remoteness of these destinations need not be seen as a negative. On the contrary, these sites have harnessed their distance from urban centres and proximity to nature to full advantage, blending art and environment in novel and mesmerizing ways. Nature becomes more than mere backdrop: it’s part of the show. In many of the places described here, whether James Turrell’s Roden Crater in the desert of Arizona or Bernardo Paz’s Inhotim in the mountains of Brazil, the works are site-specific, enabling the display of often monumental pieces that could never be mounted in cities, where real estate is at a premium.
But more than a physical practicality, the distance from “civilisation” is psychological. Kathy Halbreich, associate director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, has trekked to Inhotim four times. She describes the sprawling art wonderland as “far enough way from the nearest city…to feel isolated and a bit mad” – in a good way, of course.
Benesse Art Site at Naoshima
WHERE Naoshima Island, Japan, in the Seto Inland Sea
WHY IT IS WORTH THE TRIP Naoshima is a Japanese island of about three square miles, reached only by ferry. Thanks to the funding and efforts of the Benessee Corporation the former fishing island is now home to an underground museum designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando and art installations which dot the landscape, charming visitors to make the day-long journey from Tokyo or Kyoto. Ando’s Chichu Art Museum, built into a hilltop yet naturally lit, features a James Turrell “Skyspace,” and five of Claude Monet’s Nympheas, accessorized by a garden modeled after the artist’s at Giverny, are the stars. “You feel like you’re in the d’Orsay,” says one visitor. The Lee Ufan Museum, also designed by Ando, is devoted to the meditative work of the Korean artist, while the Art House Project invites artists such as Hiroshi Sugimoto to remake abandoned houses into stand-alone art installations. There’s a monorail, but much of the exploration can also be done on foot, leading to finds like Yayoi Kusama’s sculpture of a giant yellow pumpkin, which, were it not bolted to a pier, would likely float out to sea in a typhoon. An overnight stay at Ando’s Benesse Art Museum – an intimate, 10- room hotel is housed within the museum – buys the guest coveted after-hours access to artworks by Jackson Pollock, Bruce Nauman, Dan Flavin, Thomas Struth and Cy Twombly. Can you imagine the Met letting you wander its galleries in your pyjamas? “It’s a full blow-out experience,” says the recent visitor. While the Naoshima museums are the best known, the site now extends to the nearby fishing islands of Teshima and Inujima, and if you do not have the patience to wait for the ferry, you can charter a fishing boat to take you back and forth.
Chris Burden’s site-specific work Beam Drop Inhotim. Photograph © Ian Trower/Robert Harding World Imagery/Corbis.
WHERE Outside Brumadinho, Brazil, about 40 miles south of Belo Horizonte
WHY IT IS WORTH THE TRIP Eccentricity and untold millions make for cozy companions at Inhotim, the brainchild of the delightfully daring Bernardo Paz, a Brazilian mining magnate. Nestled in the lush hills of southeastern Brazil, the meandering campus of individual artist pavilions and installations is an art lover’s paradise. Wander this way and see Chris Burden’s Beam Drop Inhotim, a thicket of construction beams that were dropped by crane into a pit of wet cement. Wander that way and find Doug Aitken’s Sonic Pavilion, a structure with a hole plunging roughly 600 feet underground, from which microphones transmit the rumbling sounds of Earth. Doris Salcedo, Yayoi Kusama, Matthew Barney and Pipilotti Rist are just a few of the other artists who have realised site-specific works or pavilions for Inhotim. Recent additions include a sculptural fountain by Cristina Iglesias and a 30,000-square-foot gallery devoted to more than a dozen major works by Tunga. So ambitious is Paz’s vision that he has not one but three top curators, led by Allan Schwartzman, devising projects. Now on the docket: two pavilions housing individual works by Olafur Eliasson and another displaying six decades of photographs of the indigenous Yanomami people by Claudia Andujar. “It’s a blessedly idiosyncratic place which only an individual with an out-sized imagination could make, and the artists, challenged by the freedom Bernardo Paz provides, think and work big,” says MoMA’s Kathy Halbreich. The gardens themselves are more than a sideshow: renowned Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx designed them, with hundreds of species of orchids and reportedly the world’s most extensive collection of palm trees. To shelter the growing number of art pilgrims, Paz is building a hotel, scheduled for completion in summer 2014. But says Halbreich, “I hope it’s not elitist of me to worry that the airport, hotels and golf courses also planned by Paz will evaporate the strange and phantasmagoric sense of place which makes Inhotim unique and so hard to imagine. Go now.”
The Museum of Old and New Art, located on Tasmania off the coast of Australia, can be reached by ferry. Photograph by Philip Game.
The Museum of Old and New Art (Mona)
WHERE Hobart, Tasmania Island, about 150 miles south of mainland Australia.
WHY IT IS WORTH THE TRIP Professional gambler David Walsh began collecting art as a means of legally extracting his gambling winnings from South Africa, since leaving with the cash was forbidden. He has since amassed an idiosyncratic but impressive array of art, from Greek antiquities to Chris Ofili’s Holy Virgin Mary, the artist’s portrait of a black Madonna with elephant dung on her breast, which caused a brouhaha back in 1999 when it was shown as part of Sensation at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. A Hobart native, Walsh has said he wanted to be sure his museum would get noticed, and it’s hard to stand out in a place already dense with art, like New York or London. “I also had another rationale: people who travel to see something pay it serious attention,” he wrote. To be sure, MONA, the largest privately funded museum in Australia, commands attention. Not only is much of the art controversial, with a focus on sex and death, but the museum’s labyrinthine architecture is purposely anti-museum, with visitors descending a long, winding staircase to see the art rather than climbing a grand one. In lieu of wall text, visitors are given handheld devices that locate them via GPS and provide facts and backstories about the art. One clue to Walsh’s sense of humour: information varies from device to device. Another: for about $68,000, you can buy an “Eternity Membership,” which MONA’s website describes as including “parties, catalogues, annoying pamphlets, being sucked up to. Then, when you die, we have you cremated and put in a fancy jar in the museum. David’s dad is there already…P.S. This is not a joke.” For visitors not quite ready to commit to such a long-term stay, Walsh has built four luxury guest pavilions, each dedicated to an Australian artist or architect.
Donald Judd’s installation of 100 untitled works in mill aluminum is at the centre of the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas. Photograph ©Jan Butchofsky/Corbis. Artwork © Donald Judd Foundation/VAGA, New York.
WHERE Marfa, Texas
WHY IT IS WORTH THE TRIP Marfa may have been founded in the high Chihuahuan Desert of far West Texas in the 1880s, but Minimalist pioneer Donald Judd put it on the art map when he travelled there from New York City in the 1970s. Judd eventually started buying up real estate, including a decommissioned Army base, with the goal of creating permanent, site-specific installations, namely his own geometric sculptures and works by his friends Dan Flavin and John Chamberlain. Chinati is now spread through fifteen building covering 340 acres and includes extensive installations by other artists, such as Roni Horn, Claes Oldenburg and Ilya Kabakov, as well as temporary exhibitions. Much of the work is outdoors on sometimes rocky terrain, where the monumental Judd boxes cast in concrete frame the low, broad sky and play captivating games with light and shadow. Marfa may be a one-traffic-light town, where ranchers and cowboys mix genially with the creative types, but it has become a destination as essential as Art Basel or the Venice Biennale for any serious art pilgrim. Other arts organisations, including the contemporary art centre Ballroom Marfa, and commercial galleries have followed the crowds. On Highway 90 outside of town, Prada Marfa, artist duo Elmgreen and Dragset’s send-up of the designer boutique in which the door does not open, has become an Instagram magnet.
James Turrell’s Roden Crater, in the desert of Arizona, has been in progress for four decades. Photograph ©Florian Holzherr.
James Turrell Pilgrimage
WHERE Roden Crater, near Flagstaff, Arizona; James Turrell Museum in Colome, Argentina
WHY THEY ARE WORTH THE TRIP As anyone lucky enough this past summer to visit the Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston or the Los Angeles County Museum of Art – sites of simultaneous Turrell retrospectives – can attest, his art is worth standing in line to see. For the truly devoted, it is also worth flying and driving long distances. At the heart of Turrell’s oeuvre, which uses light as its primary material, is the act of seeing itself. The James Turrell Museum, built by wine tycoon Donald Hess in 2009, is situated within a Argentinian winery that also offers guest suites, and spans five decades of the artist’s practice. It boasts, among other pieces, the largest of his signature “Skyspaces,” apertures cut into roofs, encouraging viewers to gaze directly at the heavens. And in the high-altitude Upper Calchaqui Valley, the heavens can seem pretty close. But it is Roden Crater, near Arizona’s Painted Desert, that represents the artist’s life’s work. For nearly 40 years – ever since Turrell, a veteran pilot, spied it from overhead – he has been fashioning the 600-foot-tall, three-mile-wide, extinct volcano into a naked eye observatory. The project – which is backed by Turrell himself, Dia Art Foundation and some of the art world’s top foundations, including the Lannan Foundation – is still far from complete, and only select art dignitaries are granted visitation, but the experience has few, if any, comparisons.
Julie L. Belcove writes about art and culture. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Architectural Digest, Elle, Town & Country and the Financial Times, amongst other publications.