Richard has been busy preparing for an exhibit at the Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park, San Diego, scheduled for June 2014. The working title is “Surf Craft,” so naturally the Union Tribune erroneously called it “Surf’s Up.” sigh. Despite the typo, we’re very pleased with the article. The cat’s out of the bag. We’re very excited about the exhibit and especially excited to collaborate with the Mingei, as Hydrodynamica and the Mingei philosophy are perfectly aligned. The exhibit will be similar to the Getty Institute’s “Pacific Standard Time” Hydrodynamica exhibit last year, only bigger.
The Mingei philosophy, to put it very simply, is the idea that craftsmanship is the highest form of art–because the object is made by hand, by a craftsman, is simple, useful, functional, and representative of the region it was produced in. The form is where the beauty lies…in it’s usefulness. And many times these objects are anonymous. No labels, no brands, no hype…just is. This philosophy naturally resonates with any surfer who appreciates his/her surf craft.
Bob Simmons created a surfboard design based on hydrodynamic principles. That shape, that design, was and is ingenious. The first Hydrodynamica project boards where all white (“Casper”) exactly for this reason: to show its form. “Surf art” or labels on the boards would have distracted from the true art of the board, which is its form and ingenious design.
Sorry in advance for my lack of skills as a writer. –MB
Below is an article by the Union Tribune of San Diego about the Mingei and the next year’s exhibit. Link to article:
Mingei is a museum true to its mission
Balboa Park institution finds power in the (art of the) people
By James Chute 12:00p.m. May 4, 2013
At the Mingei, there’s no talk about 2015 being a year of transformation.
You won’t hear director Rob Sidner mention legacy exhibits, getting ready for the next 100 years or “taking it to the next level.”
The Mingei International Museum will just do what it does, which for the 2015 Balboa Park Centennial will be a trio of exhibits on craft icons, folk art and surfboards. “We’re continuing to try to do very solid — and worthy — exhibitions that are appropriate to what our museum is about,” said Sidner.
If you spend any time at the Mingei with Sidner and his staff — and apparently the board and volunteers as well — you’ll repeatedly hear references to the institution’s mission and “what the museum is about.”
That was founder Martha Longenecker’s genius: She created an organization with a tightly defined purpose, but one that also allows tremendous breadth and depth.
And she embodied the institution’s mission in its name: mingei — which translates from the Japanese as “arts of the people.”
Few if any other museums claim that same mission, even if institutions such as the International Museum of Folk Art in Santa Fe and the American Craft Museum in New York have collections that overlap with the Mingei.
“The International Museum of Folk Art in Santa Fe comes the closest to what we do,” Sidner said. “It is also an art museum, but it trends toward anthropology. We tend toward the aesthetic values and not so much the material culture.
“In our focus on objects of use from all cultures, we really think there’s no other museum doing exactly what we’re doing.”
The key element in understanding the Mingei is that word “use.” For years, the museum has fended off numerous well-meaning proposals regarding surfboard exhibitions because they were more concerned with decoration (as in colorfully adorned surfboards).
“That’s exactly what we did not want,” Sidner said, “but then we met Richard.”
Surfer, surf scholar and board maker Richard Kenvin — who curated a small-scale surf exhibit at San Diego’s Loft 9 Gallery for the 2011, regionwide, Getty-sponsored Pacific Standard Time exhibition — has long been interested in the idea of a surf exhibition at Mingei. He had earlier approached Longenecker and in 2011 met with Sidner and Christine Knoke, the museum’s director of exhibitions and chief curator.
Kenvin wasn’t interested in people who tried to make surfboards into art. His passion was for the visionaries and innovators who contributed to the evolution of the surfboard. And in the craft and inspiration they applied to their task, they elevated the board into an object that could be appreciated as art.
“There is a story there, a real important story, and a story that’s authentically mingei,” Sidner said. “It’s a solid tradition of craft and things truly being made for use with beautiful forms. It’s not about decoration but truly about function in the best way.”
The exhibit, with “Surf’s Up” as its working title, is set to open in the early summer in 2014 and remain up into the centennial. The exhibit — which will include as many as 80 boards with a catalog written by Kenvin — will trace the history of surfboard design, from the ancient alaia boards of Hawaii through the designs of the late and legendary Bob Simmons and shaper Carl Ekstrom, and also show the evolution of skateboards and snowboards from surfboards.
It may not be a blockbuster, but the museum expects it to have wide public appeal.
“That’s one reason we got excited,” Knoke said. “Because we realized it would be a good way to bring something with links to popular culture into this kind of mingei discussion. Not that we struggle with that, but as Rob mentioned, we get a lot of requests from people, ‘Wouldn’t this be a great idea for the Mingei?’ We have to make sure they kind of get what we do.”
The 2015 “Vernacular to Visionary — A Celebration of American Folk Art” exhibit, which Knoke will curate, is more characteristic in terms of content of what you might expect from the Mingei. The museum will show objects “from whirligigs and weather vanes to quilts and coverlets” in an exhibition largely taken from the permanent collection.
“In 1996, ‘American Expressions of Liberty’ inaugurated the Balboa Park space, and we want to take a new look at that,” Knoke said. “We’ve been able to make some important purchases, and we’ve received some donations. We’re really excited to see what we can do to continue that exhibition history of the vernacular.”
“Made in America — Craft Icons of the 50 States” will also celebrate common items of uncommon beauty, taking articles from all 50 states that are definitive of each state’s craft practices, whether an outrigger canoe from Hawaii, a quilt from Alabama or a basket from North Carolina.
“The fact that there are many communities (in North Carolina) who are collecting reeds, drying them, and making baskets in the more traditional way, that’s the kind of thing we really want,” Knoke said. “We are trying to find people today who are not necessarily entrenched in the old tradition, but who want to make those links to the past.”
Which is another quality that quietly distinguishes the Mingei. It has plenty of artifacts in a permanent collection that has grown to more than 26,000 pieces. But the museum is also focused on showing how that tradition extends into the present day.
“Where mingei is really starting to come alive again in our country is out of our affluence and out of our leisure time,” Sidner said. “People are discovering again their creativity.”
Indeed, Sidner sees that as a subtext to the museum’s mission — that by celebrating the art in the everyday, the museum also celebrates the art in every person.
“Our real goal is to continue to spark people’s creativity, to help people — normal, everyday people — to realize that they are creative,” Sidner said. “In this country, people don’t believe that very much. … We believe quite the opposite.
“What people lack is the opportunity. In preindustrial times, people were creative naturally. They had things they needed to make and they learned out of a long tradition to make things beautifully.
“In fact, they were deeply satisfying as well as truly functional.”
Into other words, they were mingei.
Posted by MB