The word “mingei,” meaning “folk craft,” was coined in 1925 by the Japanese philosopher and art historian Soetsu Yanagi to celebrate the beauty of everyday objects made by anonymous craftspeople. Yanagi was a founder and the first director of the Japan Folk Crafts Museum, which opened in Tokyo in 1936. Forty-two years later, his philosophy inspired the creation of the Mingei International Museum in San Diego, which contains objects from 140 countries and many eras (as well as works by known artists and designers) and defines mingei as “art of the people.” It reopened on Sept. 3 after a three-year renovation.
Located since 1996 in a Spanish Colonial building in Balboa Park that was constructed for the 1915-17 Panama-California Exposition, the revitalized museum recommits itself to the idea of community — of shared space, culture and creativity. “We are making an effort to offer radical hospitality — every visitor counts equally, so they discover that art is for them or about them,” said its executive director, Rob Sidner. As redesigned by the architect Jennifer Luce of Luce et Studio in La Jolla, the interior spaces are now more open and welcoming. Materials and craft are celebrated in every component of the renovation, including commissions from renowned female designers and artists.
Noting a lack of natural flow between the museum and the park, Ms. Luce offered new pathways and attractions. “We wanted to show that Mingei connects to everyone’s cultural backgrounds by bringing them in to explore and become curious,” she said. The admission-free first floor, or commons level, has a public gallery, stepped “amphitheater” seating, a cafe, a coffee bar, a shop and an education center; Ms. Luce calls it “the living room of the park.”