A daily art museum lays out a welcome mat
This article is part of our last Design a special report, on houses for several generations and the new definitions of the family.
The word “mingei,” which means “folk crafts,” was coined in 1925 by Japanese philosopher and art historian Soetsu Yanagi to celebrate the beauty of everyday objects made by anonymous artisans. Yanagi was one of the founders 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 well-known artists and designers) and defines mingei as “the art of the people”. It reopened on September 3 after a three-year renovation.
Located since 1996 in a Spanish colonial building in Balboa Park that was built for the Panama-California exhibition of 1915-17, the revitalized museum re-engages with the idea of community – shared space, culture and creativity. “We strive to offer radical hospitality – every visitor counts too, so that they discover that art is for them or for them,” said its Executive Director, Rob Sidner. Redesigned by architect Jennifer Luce de Luce and Studio in La Jolla, the interior spaces are now more open and welcoming. Materials and craftsmanship are celebrated in every element of the renovation, including orders from renowned designers and artists.
Noting a lack of natural flow between the museum and the park, Ms. Luce proposed new trails and attractions. “We wanted to show that Mingei connects to everyone’s cultural backgrounds by leading them to explore and become curious,” she said.
The first floor without entrance, or level of the commons, includes a public gallery, seats in a tiered “amphitheater”, a café, a café-bar, a shop and an educational center; Mrs. Luce calls it “the park lounge”.
On the east side of this common level, the architect opened the archway that flanks the ornate main entrance, adding glass doors that provide seven entry points. She transformed a loading dock on the ground floor below this level into a 125-seat theater, with a glass facade overlooking a patio and an amphitheater that she designed with landscape architect David Reed. The roof of the theater has been transformed into a dining room for the cafe; a large enameled copper fresco created in 1965 by San Diego artists Ellamarie and Jackson Woolley adorns its west wall. And the bell tower now houses a grand staircase with a large glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly.
At the commons level is also the perforated stainless steel ceiling 125 feet long, similar to an awning. Inspired by the mechanical piano in Mr. Sidner’s office, the project, she said, explores “music as a craft.” She designed a fence (required by the parks department) for the dining room courtyard, made of hand-twisted bronze alloy stakes that are “more welcoming and less off-putting.”
The gallery level of the second floor includes a large exhibition space, as well as a library; the founders’ gallery (open to the public when it does not host board meetings); and formerly unused outdoor terraces.
As she reconfigured the museum’s interiors, Ms. Luce invited important women in art and design to humanize them. Above the cafe bar, a 36-foot-long mural by Dutch designer and environmental activist Claudy Jongstra, created from felted wool from Drenthe Heath sheep. (This ancient breed originally from the Netherlands diminishes with the loss of its pasture.) Tinted with pigments made from organic plants cultivated by Ms. Jongstra, the piece is an exploration of indigo and Burgundy black, a shade used to represent clothing in Renaissance paintings. Wool also has acoustic properties, an advantage in its living environment.
For the entrance to the Founders’ Gallery on the second floor, which is furnished with pieces by famous carpenter George Nakashima, metallurgist artist Sharon Stampfer designed a bronze doorknob that represents the bridge between San Diego and the studio of Nakashima in New Hope. , Pa. In the room are two pieces of cutout paper by Christina Kim, based on Nakashima’s tree designs. Ms. Kim, founder of the clothing and housewares brand Dosa, used the Mexican papel cortado technique to create the works and placed them between panes in small windows, for a play of light and shadow.
For the main gallery, Ms. Kim designed a curtain to display the current installations, using Dyneema, a technical fabric that she embellished with holographic thread, which refracts light, so that it “shines like lights. cobwebs in the sun, ”she said. Billie Tsien, co-founder of New York-based Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects, designed three long, low wooden benches, made in California by Tule Peak Timber. (The company also produced the cafe bar counter from a felled walnut tree.) Complementing two existing Nakashima benches, the new seats will have organic appendages made from pieces of root ball by Stephen Iino, a New Jersey carpenter, which are intended to be used as handles to help keepers up. Ms. Tsien said that she and Mr. Williams were drawn to Mingei’s ethics of “finding the beautiful in the common.”
And for the theater curtain, Dutch designer Petra Blaisse layered laser-cut gray and blue felt sheets with an abstract jacaranda leaf pattern – in homage to Kate Sessions, a horticulturalist who introduced jacaranda to San Diego. The curtain can be moved to cover the large window or the east concrete wall of the theater.
When it comes to materials and fittings, Ms. Luce opted for proven quality and durability: white oak and core oak flooring from the 120-year-old Danish company Dinesen; architectural ironwork from A. Zahner, a Kansas City, Missouri-based company founded in 1897; and the 606 metal shelves from Vitsoe, a classic design by Dieter Rams, who said: “Good design is as little design as possible. Mr Sidner said one of the museum’s goals was to “let the renovation express the museum’s mission” to showcase “the art of the people, for the people”. In which case, mission accomplished.