Cultural Cocktail Hour

Mingei East and West at the Pacific Asia Museum

East Meets West: The Mingei Exhibit at the Pacific Asia Museum

The East and West have often been at conflict on the political stage. Even today, geo-political grandstanding mars the 2008 Summer Olympics in China as titans prove unwilling to give up an inch of their superpower. During the first half of the 20th century, the Pacific Rim was also a chessboard where the East and West fought for dominance. The exhibit Mingei East and West, however, evinces the power of art to transcend political borders.

In a century when Japanese Americans lived in internment camps, and Americans lost their lives at the hands of Kamikaze pilots, the exhibit illustrates a unity of spirit and respect between artists on opposite ends of the Pacific. Mingei East and West shows the positive impact of Mingei on the California Arts and Crafts movement as well as the American influence on Japanese Art. 

The term Mingei, coined in 1927 by Art Critic Yanagi Soetsu, refers to ”folk art,” a subtle revolt against the mechanization of the Industrial Revolution. The humble Mingei elevates the beauty of the practical and extols anonymous handcrafted objects. Yanagi classified the virtue of Mingei as its naturalness, plurality, selflessness, and functionality.

Mingei East and West depicts a lively interplay between Japanese and American artists. California artists incorporated Japanese design motifs including trees and fish. Utagawa Hiroshige’s Swaying Pine Trees from mid-ninteenth century Japan echoes through Frederick H.W Leuders Lantern with Pine Tree Motif from the University of Southern California’s Gamble House. Three Carp, a stained glass window from the 1920’s by Judson Studios mirrors Ohara Koson’s Catfish and Bee, a Japanese woodblock print on paper from the early 20th century. The California artists integrated key elements of the Japanese style: simple composition, organic line, and strong dark-light contrast.

A collection of Mingei and Post-War American ceramics further demonstrates the connection between cultures, the dynamic and fluid nature of cultural identity, and the reflection between Asia and the West. As noted by Pacific Asia Museum’s Executive Director Joan Marshall, the exhibit “is a testament to what you can do in a small space.” Through key pieces in a small setting, one can see the cohesive kinship between the artists of two great empires.

While in the space, do not forget to look up.

Fifteenth-century wood panels from a Buddhist temple float suspended from the ceiling. These panels feature Kannon, a compassionate bodhisattva, an enlightened being who helps others achieve awareness. The peaceful courtyard garden, the rhythmic murmuring pond, and Kannon, our lucid guide, all make the Pacific Asia Museum an ideal spot for an artistic pilgrimage. 

June 6, 2008 through January 6, 2009

Pacific Asia Museum 46 North Los Robles Avenue Pasadena, CA, 91101. 626.449.2742.

Hours: Wed – Sun: 10:00am-6:00pm

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