By Jasmin Rosemberg By Jasmin Rosemberg | December 9, 2021 | Lifestyle Art
An Indian elephant from the Global Spirit exhibit PHOTO COURTESY OF MINGEI INTERNATIONAL MUSEUM
Balboa Park’s transformed Mingei International Museum boasts new amenities, design features and programs that will better enable it to bring its “art of the people” to the community.
Balboa Park’s renovated Mingei International Museum in the historic House of Charm building. PHOTO COURTESY OF MINGEI INTERNATIONAL MUSEUM
The idea to renovate Balboa Park’s Mingei International Museum (mingei.org) initially arose from a need to replace floors, lighting and back-of-house elements that hadn’t been updated since the 43-year-old museum moved into the historic House of Charm building in 1996. “Then we realized that we could allow the renovation itself to become an expression of our mission with our dedication to contemporary and historic craft ,” says executive director and CEO Rob Sidner. “It became much more of a comprehensive physical renovation that would, in a way, be transforming how we function as a museum.”
Mingei’s new theater PHOTO COURTESY OF MINGEI INTERNATIONAL MUSEUM
After enlisting architect Jennifer Luce of LUCE et studio in 2015 and undergoing a three-year renovation, the transformed museum—which focuses on folk art, craft, design and mingei, meaning “art of the people”—debuted in September. Mainly by converting an underutilized loading dock into a new theater, the museum added 15,000 square feet of usable space. Other additions include Shop Mingei, carrying items like handmade ceramics, jewelry and clothing; Craft Café, which offers coffee, smoothies, salads and takeaway items; and Artifact restaurant, which serves lunch Tuesday through Saturday and will later add dinner service two nights a week, “with likely a prix fixe menu and a focus on a particular ethnic cuisine that will change every two weeks,” notes Sidner.
Higomari, an ornamental ball from the Humble Spirit/ Priceless Art exhibit PHOTO COURTESY OF MINGEI INTERNATIONAL MUSEUM
To better engage the community, Mingei introduced an art-filled courtyard, outdoor terraces and four new entrances to the 1915 Spanish Colonial landmark. The Commons level—envisioned as a “living room” for Balboa Park—is free to the public. “So it has literally opened up the museum but it’s also now much more light-filled, welcoming, accessible,” Sidner says. The Commons level also showcases items from Mingei’s permanent collection, referencing its roots in the early 20th century Japanese mingei movement and commitment to global crafts and textiles. “We’re introducing a taste of the collection, which we hope becomes tantalizing so that people will want to pay admission and go up to see the fully curated exhibitions,” he adds.
A glass 2005 sculpture by American artist Dale Chihuly. PHOTO COURTESY OF MINGEI INTERNATIONAL MUSEUM
The upstairs gallery level houses the museum’s library; permanent collection of beads, toys and more; and two new exhibits, which run through Feb. 1. Global Spirit features masks, dolls, baskets and folk art from over 20 countries, and Humble Spirit/Priceless Art, curated by Sidner, highlights everyday objects made of common materials, from Mexican combs to Indian kites. “It’s a way of getting beyond the idea that for something to be beautiful it has to be expensive,” Sidner says. Luce integrated the museum’s mission into the design by employing metals and natural materials, and Mingei enlisted women to create functional yet artful pieces, from curtains to murals to benches. “We’ve tried to emphasize the role of contemporary women craftsmen in commissions that have become part of the fabric of the museum.”
Mingei’s new Global Spirit exhibition PHOTO COURTESY OF MINGEI INTERNATIONAL MUSEUM
Art-making activities, performances and programs (including a spring collaboration with Museum in the Park) make use of the new 35-seat education center and theater—which the museum offers to nonprofit groups on Community Mondays. Upcoming exhibits include a new edition of its previous Hats and Headdresses and a spring display on sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle to accompany the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in La Jolla’s reopening exhibit.
Architect Jennifer Luce worked with artist A. Zahner to create “Suspended Refrain,” a perforated metal ceiling that renders a player piano roll song PHOTO COURTESY OF MINGEI INTERNATIONAL MUSEUM
Sidner loves that Mingei invites viewers to discover beauty where it’s least expected—to engage in an ongoing conversation about how we live and what we are using every day in our lives. “Churchill used to say that we form our buildings and then our buildings form us,” shares Sidner. “I think that’s even more true about the things we surround ourselves with, and that’s what Mingei is all about.”
Local artists Ellamarie and Jackson Woolley’s enamel mural, “Variations on a Gold Theme.” PHOTO COURTESY OF MINGEI INTERNATIONAL MUSEUM
The Commons level and its public gallery PHOTO COURTESY OF MINGEI INTERNATIONAL MUSEUM