Mingei and its Future: Hida Takayama, Japan

The studio looks at the legacy of Mingei, the “Craft of the People.” Mingei is a philosophy developed in the 1920s in Japan by Soetsu Yanagi and his colleagues in an effort to counter newly imposed Western aesthetics and artistic values and to protect the significance of traditional art and craft in Japan. One hundred years later, this philosophy has a larger implication for contemporary global society, at a time when we are reassessing the overlooked contributions of marginalized communities and re-evaluating cultural production everywhere. Today, we are also questioning the role of museums and reexamining their programs as they continue to play a vital role as participants in the dynamic dialogue of our time.

The studio will study the philosophy of Mingei through the movement’s writing and artistic examples. The program of the studio will be the design of a contemporary Mingei museum on a site adjacent to the existing Kusakabe Mingei Kan in Takayama, Gifu. Takayama is situated in the middle of the Japan Alps and is often called “Little Kyoto” for its gridded urban formation. This area of Hida is known for its expert carpenters and the Kusakabe Traditional House, one of the most important examples of traditional building craft. Built in 1879 for a merchant family, it was converted into the Mingei Museum in 1966. We will interpret the ways in which Mingei philosophy can be integrated into the architecture of our time and look at the legacy of Mingei beyond any historical theory to engage larger global cultures. We will look at works of contemporary African American artists following Theaster Gates’ “Afro Mingei” practice, which blurs and brings together distinct cultural identities to form a new hybridity that retraces cultural roots.

We plan to travel to Tokyo and Takayama and will visit the pottery studio of Theaster Gates in Tokoname.