Soetsu Yanagi examines a Korean pot, one year before his death. © Nihon Mingeikan, Tokyo, 1960 



with the support of Japan Airlines

The spirit of “Mingei” in Japan: folk art design

September 30, 2008 – January 11, 2009

Temporary exhibit in the Garden Gallery

Exhibit curator: Germain VIATTE

Assistant curator: Akemi SHIRAHA


Organizer’s Notes On Exhibit’s Purpose

This exhibit is based on a specific case-that of thinker Yanagi Soetsu, promoter of the “Mingei” movement, and his son, Yanagi Sori, who was a premier post-war  designer. The exhibit causes one to reflect on the relationship, established during the 20th century, between the rediscovery of certain traditional arts and international modern art through design.

This dynamic comes out of a strictly ethnographic and anthropological  perception of traditional folk art. Accordingly, it can be inscribed inside of a specific historical situation: that of Japan during the first half of the 20th century (until the end of the 1950’s). It also has to do with an aesthetic, moral and formal perspective that today is echoed by the “original forms” of certain contemporary designers.

« Mingei »

The word “Mingei” is an abbreviation for “minshuteki kogeï,” which means “folk art,” or “popular art, created by the people, for the people.”

A thinker and man of action, Yanagi Soetsu campaigned his entire life for the promotion of folk art. He did this through writings, most notably in the monthly publication, “Kogeï (which means “folk art”), teaching and with exhibits. As a reflection of the spirit and traditional Mingei techniques, he constructed the “Nihon Mingeikan” in Tokyo, during 1936.

Questions that might be posed concerning the chronological coincidence of the Mingel Movement with the rise in Japanese nationalism and imperialism between the two world wars should be cleared up, from the start: starting in 1919, Yanagi Soetsu wrote about his disagreement with Japan’s policy of military aggression. Moreover, in 1924, he dedicated the creation of the Korean people’s folk art museum in Seoul (the first of its kind in Asia) to the “beauty of Korean art,” and he turned the same into a testimonial of his “deep respect and affection for Korea.”   


Tabouret Butterfly © Atelier Sori Yanagi, Tokyo
Tabouret Butterfly © Atelier Sori Yanagi, Tokyo
Grand verseur à bec © Nihon Mingeikan, Tokyo
Grand verseur à bec © Nihon Mingeikan, Tokyo
Bamboo Basket Chair © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York
Bamboo Basket Chair © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York