Saturday, March 15, 2014

Sincerity and calm: Mingei at Pace Gallery

Mingei: Are You Here?
PACE / 508 West 25th Street, through April 5, 2014

Mingei was a Japanese folk craft movement established in 1926 when the Japan was experiencing rapid westernization and urbanization.  As stated in the press release for this exhibit:  [Mingei] sought to maintain the cultural identities and traditions of varied histories 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.”

Kettle hook hanger, Daikoku Type, 19th century, zelkova wood

What makes this exhibit so wonderful is the juxtaposition of work from across centuries and traditions, both eastern and western, all linked by the devotion to principles of simplicity and sincerity.  Again, quoting from the press release: "According to Soetsu 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.' "

James Lee Byars ink on paper drawing (see full caption below) and Kenzo Tange, Chair, 1957, plywood frame and back, upholstered seat

James Lee Byars, Untitled, c. 1959, ink on Japanese paper, in 4 parts.  Please note that the central area is actually uninflected black ink; what reads as dark spots is a reflection from a gallery wall.

The exhibit, curated by Nicolas Trembley, includes more than 80 items (paintings, sculptures, works on paper, ceramics and textiles) made by unnamed Japanese craftsmen, Eastern and Western 20th century artists and designers, as well as contemporary artists. On view: a 16th century ceramic sake container, a 1981 obsidian sculpture by Noguchi, elegant porcelain pottery designed by Peter Muller, as well as tattered pre-WWII Japanese textiles. The 30 artists include Anni Albers, Josef Albers, Isamu Noguchi, Ruth Asara, James Lee Byars, designers Peter Muller, Kenzo Tange, and Charlotte Perriand, as well as other contemporary and traditional artists.  Apart from several brightly hued hangings, much of the work reflects a rich but neutral palette of black, white, tan and brown.

It is beautifully installed and fortunately, there are no labels to interfere with the experience of gazing at the work. (An exhaustive list is available at the gallery desk if you want all the details. All caption information is from the gallery list.)  There are even a couple of benches in the gallery to allow for more relaxed contemplation, which this work most certainly encourages.  The one annoyance (which will be evident from the photos) was that it was difficult to fully enjoy the works framed under glass because of excessive reflections. 

Sgrafo Modern Korallen Series (designed by Peter Muller), c. 1960-1980, porcelain

Lee Ufan, From Winds, 1982, watercolor on paper

While I will be returning to the gallery for a second (and probably third) look, the standouts this time were the ink on paper drawings by James Lee Byars, works by Noguchi and the Kenzo Tange chair. Several of the older ceramic pieces were placed in protective vitrines and I was unable to capture decent photos, but I will add images of more of the textiles after a return visit.

For installation views, visit the Pace website by clicking here
To read an article about the exhibit in The Brooklyn Rail, click here.

Front row, far left: Sake Bags, Pre-WWII. Center: Mino, Farmers rain cape, early 1900s, woven rice straw, hemp and seawood.  Right: Backpack, late 1800s, indigo dyed cotton, fiber.  Back: James Lee Byars, Untitled, c. 1960, ink on Japanese paper

Front, left:  Valentin Carron, Pot 1, 2013, concrete. Front, right: a glimpse of an 18th century stoneware sake bottle. Wall, left: Robert Ryman, Marshall, 1998, oil and acrylic on stretched linen. Right: Ruth Asawa, Untitled (S. 114. Hanging, Six-Lobed Continuous Form within a Form with One Suspended and Two Tied Spheres), c. 1958, iron copper and brass wire.

Left: Ruth Asaw (see above). Center: Isamu Noguchi, Untitled, 1981, obsidian. Right: Charlotte Perriand, Low chair, c. 1950, bamboo. On the wall: N. Dash, Untitled, 2014, adobe, pigment, acrylic, linen, jute, wood support
From left: Anni Albers, Haiku, 1961, cotton, hemp, metallic thread, wool; Josef Albers, Tialoc, 1944, woodcut; Josef Albers, Above the Water, 1944 woodcut; Josef Albers, Astatic, 1944, woodcut; Josef Albers, Zelle/Tents, 1932, woodcut.  Courtesy the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation.