Yanagi Sōetsu and the Mingei Movement

  • Exhib_slideshow_soetsu

May 28, 2009 - September 06, 2009
Gallery 20

Exhibition Overview

In a new initiative between the Honolulu Academy of Arts, the Center for Japanese Studies, and the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Hawaiʻi-Mânoa, the Academy is pleased to announce a special display of art from the Japanese mingei  (“folk craft”) movement. Working together with the Academy’s Asian Art and Textiles Departments, UH graduate students have prepared a selection of rarely seen works from the permanent collection made by some of the key artists involved in making mingei one of the dominant aesthetic movements of the 20th century.

Yanagi Sōetsu (1889-1961) was a writer, collector, curator, and founder of Japan’s mingei movement in the 1920s. Inspired by England’s Arts and Crafts movement, and concerned about the loss of traditional Japanese culture and values, Yanagi championed handicrafts produced by anonymous artisans, as well as works by established artists who modeled their production according to the mingei ideal. According to Yanagi, to qualify as mingei a work must be:
1) produced by hand
2) inexpensive
3) egalitarian
4) functional in daily life
5) representative of the regions in which they were produced

Championing these values were like-minded artists including potters Hamada Shōji, Kawai Kanjirō and Bernard Leach, woodblock print artist Munakata Shikō, and textile artist Serizawa Keisuke, who sought to counteract the Japanese public’s desire for cheap, factory-produced products by creating hand-made objects of simple, timeless beauty intended to satisfy the human spirit. Several artists associated with the mingei movement were later named Living National Treasures, and the success of the mingei movement is credited for keeping many craft traditions alive in Japan that may otherwise have been lost.

Works on display in this exhibition include textiles, lacquerware, prints, paintings, and pottery, and represent the kinds of objects and the cultures (including those of Japan’s ethnic minorities and Korea) which Yanagi himself admired. The exhibition was curated by Eiyo Baba, Sawako Chang, Karana Vierra, and Mizuho Murakami, members of a graduate seminar organized by Professor John Szostak of the Department of Art and Art History, University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa.

This exhibition has been sponsored in part by the Center for Japanese Studies at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mânoa.
                          —Shawn Eichman, Curator of Asian Art