Mingei is a neologism coined by Japanese scholar Yanagi Sōetsu, a term meaning “art of all people.” Folk art, crafts and design is an element found in all cultures throughout history—handmade, usually functional items created by often anonymous artists. It’s no wonder, then, that Mingei International Museum has the name that it does, given the museum’s focus.
Walk through the place and it looks much like any other art museum, with clean lines, right angles, white walls and well-spaced works of incredible beauty and imagination. But you won’t find Cézanne or da Vinci here. The art here is almost exclusively identified by the time, place and culture from which it originated, not the name of a famous artist.
And while there’s probably nothing here that you’ll recognize from an art history textbook, the 26,000-piece collection from 141 countries gives an international picture of the creativity of ordinary people. Here you may see anything from a silver and coral necklace from Tibet, an Abelem ceremonial clay pot or a 19th-century Spanish carousel goat. Exhibits range from pre-Columbian miniatures to the craft of surf boards to turn-of-the-century African-American dolls.
The huge mosaic alligator sculpture outside is great fun for kids to climb around on, but most of the exhibits within will only be of interest to older children and adults. After looking at so many pieces that combine the artistic with the utilitarian you may be itching to purchase something you can both use and admire yourself—which is what shopping at the in-museum Collector’s Gallery is all about. Free tours take place hourly from 10am to 1, helping you get even more out of the museum experience. And while, as with most museums, only a fraction of the collection is on display at any one time, you can see everything they’ve got online.
You can find the museum at 1439 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101.