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Camp Talganie Artistic Farm (Itoman) Connects the Ordinary and Extraordinary, and Okinawa and the World at the Smallest Modern Art Museum in the World
post : 2018.12.11 15:00
Approximately three minutes away by car from the Himeyuri Peace Memorial Museum, and deep in the community of Komesu is this unique museum, the Camp Talganie Artistic Farm, with its old fashioned red-tiled roof and exhibition rooms with modern designs. The operator and curator of this special museum is Kazuto Ota, who proudly says, “This is the world’s smallest modern art museum.”
Despite being privately owned and operated, this art museum has an impressive collection of three-dimensional works and the variety and quality are said to be top-class in Okinawa. You can enjoy a wide array of art and in-depth approach to the various pieces on exhibit, collected through Mr. Ota’s network of artists from not just Okinawa but of diverse backgrounds, based in mainland Japan, Taiwan, Korea, China, and America.
The works are selected based on Mr. Ota’s interests and sense of beauty and they include pieces created with a wide variety of materials including ceramics, wood, copper sheets, Ryukyu limestone, red roof tiles, lacquer, plastics, bronze, granite, and others. Their texture, colors, and forms are rich in diversity and perhaps that comes from him carrying on the “champuru (mix)” spirit of Okinawa, a culture shaped by embracing diverse cultural influences.
The uniqueness of the museum doesn’t end with just the artwork on exhibit. Outside, you’ll see a beautifully manicured lawn tended by Mr. Ota, bushes magnificently pruned that they themselves are works of art. There is also a large Ryukyu limestone rock embraced by the spreading roots of a banyan, a type of tree that grows in tropical areas. That large garden shows the balance of a human touch and powers of nature, and there on display is a large sculpture piece.
On exhibit at the museum are works that speak to hope and hopelessness, relief and anxiety. The monument of a pregnant woman and infant (Igigabara (I want a little brother) by Mayumi Nakamoto) reminds the observer of the complexities of people caught in between emotions. The smooth lines of the work KUME (by Ei Maruyama) seems to express the strengths of life. Another piece reminds us of the famous words of Nietzsche, a German philosopher, “Dig deeply where you stand. You are certain to find a spring there.” The beautiful half-sphere piece punctured with holes is titled “Okinawa” (by an artist Moritz・ウォルサー, *whom the translator was unable to find reference for the spelling of his last name) and seemed to express the wounded island. Such works that stimulate our imagination are on display, blending against a backdrop of the ordinary and common scenes of life on Okinawa.
Now, the building itself is was a two-story Ryukyuan home built in 1951, and the second floor of the structure, built by Miya-daiku, or carpenters that specialize in building shrines and temples, was relocated here from the Itoman Rotary area. The red tiled roof represents a very Okinawan feel to the structure, but the white window frames and walls look to have the European influences from the Meiji period in Japan, and the white benches aligned under the eaves create a somewhat nostalgic atmosphere and in the Okinawan “champuru” style. The frosted glass on the windows, by the way, are rare and no longer manufactured and so when a typhoon or strong winds are forecasted, the sliding doors to shut out the storm are firmly closed.
The collection of art are displayed in the garden, the nostalgic main building, and in the exhibition room where you can enjoy the pieces under just natural lighting. These were collected by Mr. Ota personally across three decades, through direct contact with each of the artists, along with a few antique pottery and paintings that were stored at his parents’ home. At the main building are works by artists of Okinawan descent, including paintings by Go Takamine, a well-known filmmaker, Arold Higa’s Cats with primitive form and humorous expressions, and three-dimensional pottery work by the internationally known artist, Toshiko Takaezu. What’s unique about the museum is that the artworks are displayed by the front door, in the hallway, the drawing room, living room, and the tokonoma alcove in the tatami room. They are truly “art in our every day living”.
Being a private art museum, I asked why there was no admission charge, and the response I got from Mr. Ota was, “Artwork belongs to everyone. I’ve always thought that an artwork doesn’t belong to one specific person. Those who want to see the works of art can enjoy art without consulting their wallets. I believe that’s how art museums really ought to be. In reality, many national museums abroad do not charge admission.”
That said, maintaining an art museum that displays a collection of more than 150 pieces must take a lot of time and money in maintenance. Mr. Ota said he was behind on the electricity bill once and the power was cut. Despite that, he still doesn’t charge admission and he even serves coffee to his visitors and offers a lovely time chatting. This must be because he truly believes in the special powers of art.
“How you perceive and what you feel through art. To enjoy art, we need imagination,” says Mr. Ota, who lived in Kumamoto until he was in the fourth grade and then went to a university in Tokyo. After returning to Okinawa, he worked for many years for the local government and was deeply involved in cultural administration. He loved music since he was a boy, particularly classical, rock and jazz, and since his college years, he was passionate about filmmaking with Go Takamine, whose most recent work is Hengyoro. He said he became interested in art and craftwork much later in his life.
“Compared to the 6 million years in the history of humans, my life is like a camping trip in a place that I happen to be living,” Mr. Ota reflects on how life is transient and one in which he spends in the laid-back environment of Itoman where time seems to pass more leisurely. He’s living each and every day with joy, and he does so enriched with art. Connecting the ordinary with the extraordinary, and also connecting Okinawa with the world; that may be the most unique characteristic about Camp Talganie Artistic Farm.
Camp Talganie Artistic Farm
Address: 304 Komesu, Itoman City, Okinawa
Hours: Around 11AM to Sunset
Closed: Irregularly (Please call about a week in advance before your visit)
Okinawa CLIP photo writer, Nobuya Fukuda