Rediscovering mystique of Atami through art

Old & New video

By Ryuzo Suzuki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Photographer
The installation “Lucy,” by Hashel Al Lamki, is on display in the dance hall overlooking the sea in the former Hotel New Akao, the main venue of “Atami Art Grant 2022.”

ATAMI, Shizuoka — Known since the Edo period (1603-1867) as a health resort of onsen hot springs, the city of Atami is currently serving as a hub of the art world with a special event running this month.

The Shizuoka Prefecture city is hosting “Atami Art Grant 2022” at various locations where visitors can see works by up-and-coming artists as they make their way around the picturesque city.

By Ryuzo Suzuki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Photographer
A photo series titled “Majilis,” by Lamya Gargash, is on display in the luxurious main dining room of the former Hotel New Akao, including one attached to the window on the front right.

Under the theme of “Uzu — Spiral Atami” (uzu means vortex), the event opened on Nov. 3 and will run through Nov. 27. Works by 50 artists and collectives are being featured, 30 of whom were specially selected from more than 200 applicants, with the other 20 being those who created artworks while staying in Atami this year.

The art event was launched last year “to rediscover the mystique of Atami through art and bring it to light.” The aim of the event organizer, the Project Atami Executive Committee, is to use art to boost the city by taking it in a different direction.

By Ryuzo Suzuki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Photographer
“The Big Flat Now” by Masahide Matsuda is on display on the entrance floor of the former Hotel New Akao; the foreground section used to be a souvenir shop.

The 21 venues range from hotels to cafes, from a shrine to a fish market, with the artwork spanning such genres as paintings, photographs, videos, sculptures, and light displays.

The main venue is the imposing former Hotel New Akao that is an annex of Hotel Acao, which is still in business today. Sitting high upon a bluff, the 20-story concrete structure had 250 guest rooms and became a landmark in Atami, hosting honeymooners and tourist groups since its opening in 1973.

But the pandemic took a heavy toll on tourism numbers, which, combined with the aging of the building itself and changing travel styles among the public, led the hotel to close its accommodation service in November 2021.

The elegant main dining room, guest rooms and even the large common bath are serving as exhibition areas during the event, allowing visitors to see artwork in locales from the hotel’s heyday.

By Ryuzo Suzuki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Photographer
“Arrows or Else Shadows” by Naoki Takehisa is on display at Kinomiya Shrine.

“As Atami tries to dispel the fixed image that it is nothing but hot springs, we are encouraged by the idea that the Art Grant can provide a new way of utilizing our spaces,” Atami Mayor Sakae Saito said in a message read out at the opening ceremony on Nov. 4.

Noted architect Kengo Kuma, who served on the committee selecting artists for the event, participated in the ceremony online via Zoom. “Since the Nara period [710-784], Atami is a place of hot springs, that is, where the waters of life spring forth,” he said. “To use such a place for an art event like the Art Grant can breathe new life into the city. The power of art can become a driving force to help Atami take flight to world recognition.”

The executive committee plans to leave as much of the artwork as possible in place after the event ends as part of its efforts to create a community where people can feel close to art.

By Ryuzo Suzuki / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Photographer
Paintings by Kouichi Ohno, titled “Toku ni mieru, nanimo mienai” (Seen in the distance, nothing visible), are on display high on a wall of the Atami Fish Market.

Each venue sets its own days of operation, although most are closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Admission is free at some venues. An event passport good for all venues costs ¥3,500 for adults, and ¥3,000 for university, high school and vocational school students, and is free for junior high school students and younger.