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Mingei: Are You Here? Pace Gallery in London explores Japanese folk craft movement
Installation view of the exhibition at Pace in London.

LONDON.- Pace London presents its first group exhibition at 6-10 Lexington Street from 15 October to 14 December 2013. Mingei: Are You Here? explores the legacy of Mingei, a Japanese folk craft movement led by philosopher and critic Sōetsu Yanagi and questions the presence of craftsmanship in contemporary art.

The exhibition features eighty works and special commissions by more than twenty-five artists, including paintings, sculptures, works on paper, ceramics and textile shown in a vitrine inspired by ethnographic exhibitions. Systems of display and practical aspects of museum work are one of the central themes of the exhibition.

Curated by Nicolas Trembley, this museum-quality exhibition juxtaposes historical works by Japanese Mingei artists with modern and contemporary artists, designers and architects inspired by the philosophy of Mingei. Pace’s artists featured in the exhibition include Josef Albers, Isamu Noguchi, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Lee Ufan and specifically for this exhibition: Ruth Asawa, Mark Barrow & Sarah Parke, Valentin Carron, Trisha Donnelly, Simon Fujiwara, Naoto Fukasawa, Shoji Hamada, Kawai Kanjiro, Tomimoto Kenkichi, Bernard Leach, Sgrafo Modern, Jasper Morrison, Charlotte Perriand, Stephen Prina, Willem de Rooij, Keisuke Serizawa, Kenzo Tange, Danh Vo and Sori Yanagi.

Inspired by the 19th century Arts and Crafts movement in Europe, the Mingei movement was established in 1926 during a period of rapid growth in Japan that included military imperialism, nationalism, westernisation and urbanisation. It sought to maintain the cultural originality of the different peoples across Japan. The title of the exhibition refers to the philosophical ethos of Mingei which champions the everyday, ordinary and utilitarian objects created by nameless and unknown craftsmen.

According to Sōetsu Yanagi, Founder of the Mingeikan – Japan Folk Crafts Museum: “Dishonesty, depravity, and luxury - this is what Mingei objects must avoid at all costs; all that is natural, sincere, safe and simple – these are the characteristics of Mingei art.”

Highlights include works by Mark Barrow who collaborated with textile designer Sarah Parke to produce a hand-loomed linen work onto which Barrow has painted a geometrical composition of delicate and interweaving colours. While the interlacing composition might allude to Barrow’s obsession with pixels as well as pertaining to wider evocations of technology, the sciences and phenomenology, the process by which the piece has been made adheres to an artisanal tradition based in natural materials. Here we see a palpable link between tradition and modernity that is integral to the exhibition and, not least, the development of the Mingei movement.

Valentin Carron looked to his native Swiss valley, where he employs local artisans to produce his vases made of unrefined concrete, and finds inspiration through the vernacular shapes one finds in its public spaces. For one of the sculptures in this exhibition, he has used marble from Cipolin, a local quarry that is now shut. The architect Adolf Loos also used this marble for his Villa Müller in Prague. Similarly, the American artist Trisha Donnelly often visits Italian quarries where she engraves marble. One of these marble pieces is shown in Mingei: Are You Here?. For her second sculpture in this exhibition, Donnelly worked with both a locksmith and blacksmith to create a blade that encapsulates the “warrior spirit” of a sabre.

Returning to his homeland, Vietnam, Danh Vo gilds mundane cardboard boxes with gold leaf offering a critique on the oft-tainted contemporary notion of the artisan. Perhaps simultaneously his piece evokes the heritage of Mingei visual culture that refashioned daily utilitarian objects into objects considered ‘beautiful’. The re-use of everyday materials is further found in Stephen Prina’s piece as the artist has painted on simple roller blinds to reference Japanese scroll painting, kakemono. Prina’s work could recently be seen on display at the Pavilion for Japanese Art of LACMA, Los Angeles.

This exhibition's strongest thread, however, is Isamu Noguchi, rarely shown in the UK, who personifies a dialogue between the Orient and the West, equally addressing design, sculpture, and architecture as well as acknowledging both tradition and modernity. Flanking Noguchi are friends of his including the architect Kenzo Tange who designed handwoven seats, as well as artists represented by Pace who are now perpetuating an East-West exchange. Indeed, Yanagi's thinking guided Korean artist Lee Ufan during his days as a philosophy student, and it is Yanagi’s son, Sori Yanagi, who introduced Charlotte Perriand to Japan and Mingei in the 1940s.

Sori Yanagi, who is also featured in Mingei: Are You Here?, was greatly impressed by the exhibition Super Normal: Sensations of the Ordinary conceived by the Japanese designer Naoto Fukasawa and the English product designer Jasper Morrison on the occasion of the 2007 Milan triennial. He stopped before a sieve to ask who had produced it. So commonplace had this object become since it was first designed, he had forgotten that he himself had actually created it. This anecdote is significant. The Yanagi sieve appears in this exhibition, together with its woven bamboo ancestor, which dates back to the nineteenth century Meiji period. The latter belongs to the largest private collection of Mingei artefacts outside Japan. Its owner, the collector Jeffrey Montgomery, admits how enthralled he is by the way in which such objects emanate “vibrations” acquired through “years of handling and stories beyond words”.

Hiroshi Sugimoto presents two new site-specific sculptures in Mingei: Are You Here?. During the 1980s in New York, Sugimoto owned an antique shop which he simply named Mingei after a movement that he would be one of the first to introduce to the United States.

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