Mingei: Are You Here? updates Japanese tradition
Folk art movement Mingei finds favour with contemporary artists courtesy of curator Nicolas Trembley
Much like William Morris’s Arts & Crafts, Mingei, the Japanese folk art movement, is all about the earthy beauty of everyday objects fashioned by anonymous crafters. In a new exhibition at Pace London, Mingei: Are You Here?, swollen pots in lovely blue and greeny brown glazes, wicker and polished wood chairs and an Edo period, hand embroidered leather coat or kawabaori, typify the homespun charm and artisanal skills that lead philosopher Yanagi Soetsu, to found the movement that flourished in the 1920s and 30s.
Though he’s gone for a museological display with art on a raised stage and many pieces in glass cases, Swiss curator Nicolas Trembley isn’t interested in a straightforward historicising survey however. Instead he’s exploring how Mingei’s values have appeared in work by both Eastern and Western artists throughout the 20th century.
There’s an emphasis on pared back beauty. Some of the most celebrated names in the show include Black Mountain College lynchpin Josef Albers represented by characteristically stark abstract woodblock prints, and leading Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto whose recent photographs of reservoirs transform the landscape into semi-abstract strips of black and white.
The slippage between craft and art is explored in works like legendary textile artist Anni Albers’ exquisite metallic weave, Haiku, and an early 20th century ‘boro futonji’, a beautiful patchwork drapery in blues and purples by an unknown crafter. And the absorption of a Japanese craft aesthetic into mass design is also nodded to with a minimalist stainless steel kettle and iconic butterfly stool by the late product design luminary Sori Yanagi.
It’s intriguing to see how a new generation of up and coming artists are navigating ancient traditions in an age of globalised mass production. In a neat comment on local handicraft cheapened or commodified, Danh Vo has gilded the text and graphics on a Vietnamese cardboard box. Swiss artist Valentin Carron’s gigantic pots appear to made from hand-worked concrete, their grey surfaces coarse and ridged. American Trisha Donnelly meanwhile has collaborated with a blacksmith to fashion a gleaming single blade intended to sum up a ‘warrior spirit’: fighting the good fight, for the future convergence of art and craft.
The show runs until December 14 and you can find out more about the artists mentioned in the piece by clicking the links. If you'd like to learn more about Japanese style and culture we have a great book called Japan Style which gives an insight into its essence, identifying its specific qualities and characteristics through its architecture, arts, crafts, cinema and literature from Ukiyo-e to Tadao Ando. You can learn more about and buy Japan Style from the people who made it here.