USC Pacific Asia Museum

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46 North Los Robles Avenue
Pasadena, California 91101
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USC Pacific Asia Museum

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Mingei East and West

June 6, 2008 through January 6, 2009

Tea Kettle
Tea Kettle. Japan, 20th century. Bronze. USC Pacific Asia Museum Collection. Gift of Peter Sims, 2001.8.7AB. Photo by Julian Bermudez.

Mingei literally means “folk art” in Japanese. Literary scholar and critic Yanagi Soetsu (1889–1961) coined the word in the 1920s to refer to and champion the kind of anonymous, handcrafted objects that had begun to disappear as Japan entered the age of mass production and western-oriented modernization. Yanagi and his followers revitalized the tradition of handicraft by re-evaluating the beauty of utilitarian objects and spurring a new artistic movement dedicated to maintaining what they defined as essential Japanese values.

Today, scholars are reassessing the theoretical and political nderpinnings
of the mingei movement. Yanagi’s “criterion of beauty in Japan” has been criticized for oversimplifying Japanese culture and for presenting that culture as serene and spiritual at a time of colonial expansion and militarism. Moreover, while Yanagi claimed to discover core aesthetic and social principles in common Japanese culture, many of his ideas were adapted from the English Arts and Crafts Movement.

Mingei East and West is drawn largely from the museum’s collection and includes pre-modern Japanese objects; modern Japanese works in the mingei style; 20th century Japanese inspired Arts and Crafts objects from Southern California, as well as new works by local American artists inspired by mingei.

This exhibition is co-sponsored by the Paul I. and Hisako Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies and the Consulate of Japan in Los Angeles.

Yeonsoo Chee, Exhibition Curator