Completely renovated Mingei International Museum reopening in San Diego's Balboa Park
By Chadd Scott
Architect Jennifer Luce with metal fabricator A. ZahnerZahner Labs, Hedgerow, a sculptural fence outside Mingei International Museum. | Courtesy Mingei International Museum
After a three-year closure for a transformational renovation, Mingei International Museum reopens September 3 with a dynamic slate of exhibitions, commissioned artworks and public programs. Located in San Diego’s historic Balboa Park, featuring the largest concentration of museums and arts organizations west of the Mississippi River, Mingei International Museum’s grand reopening will reveal a compelling new museum of over 50,000 square feet. Enhancements include 10,000 square feet of additional exhibition and programming space along with a new theater, education center, bistro, store and coffee bar.
The term mingei, art of the people, was coined by Japanese philosopher Soetsu Yanagi in 1924. Yanagi spent his life encouraging the preservation of craft traditions and emphasizing the value of beautiful objects made by hand for daily use. This sentiment forms the basis for the mission and collection at Mingei International Museum.
“We celebrate human creativity and help people discover the unexpected beauty and joy in everyday objects made by everyday people,” Jessica York, Deputy Director and Chief Advancement Officer, Mingei International Museum, said. “We believe this can help us connect to one another across time and cultures and inspire us to get in touch with our own individual creativity.”
Paramount to the Mingei’s renovation was the addition of spaces welcoming the public into the museum.
“We’ve created a free-for-everyone Commons level that feels truly connected to our amazing home, Balboa Park,” York said. “This ‘living room for the park’ features a new exhibition space, a restaurant, a walk-up coffee bar and an expanded Shop Mingei.”
The Commons level, located on the main floor, will be accessible from the Plaza de Panama and Alcazar Garden.
“When we were conducting research for the project, we heard over and over that visitors wanted a place to linger, to be social, to discuss and share their experiences at Mingei and enjoy Balboa Park,” York said. “Now, community members and tourists alike have the opportunity to find moments of respite, relaxation and connection to one another, whether with a coffee on the terrace, a study session in our art library, or a full-service meal at our new restaurant, ARTIFACT at Mingei.”
Throughout, visitors will have the chance to discover previously inaccessible spaces including new public terraces with great views of the park and a grand staircase in the building’s tower, a space not previously occupied. The new staircase leading to the second-level galleries spotlights the museum’s Dale Chihuly glass sculpture, Mingei International Museum Chandelier, which will be suspended over the staircase.
Providing easier guest entry to the museum, sited in a 1915 Spanish Colonial building known as the “House of Charm,” was another key driver in the renovation.
“The first thing museumgoers will encounter is a much more welcoming entrance experience,” York said. “There used to be one door in and out of the museum for visitors, but we’ve now added four new public entries, including a beautiful entrance adjacent to Alcazar Garden.”
Not everything is new. Niki de Saint Phalle’s beloved mosaic sculpture Nikigator again welcomes visitors from Balboa Park at the Plaza de Panama, just south of the Museum’s East entrances, while her large-scale sculpture, The Poet and His Muse, takes up a position at the brand-new West Entrance in Alcazar Garden.
Dale Chihuly, Mingei International Museum Chandelier, glass. | Courtesy Mingei International Museum
Established in 1978 by potter and professor Martha Longenecker, Mingei honors anonymous craftsmen from ancient times to contemporary designers. The temporary exhibitions on view upon reopening support that effort.
“GLOBAL SPIRIT—Folk Art from the Ted Cohen Collection” showcases folk art from over 20 countries, highlighting a donation to the museum by the Oakland-based collector Ted Cohen. “HUMBLE SPIRIT / PRICELESS ART” shines a light on objects made from the humblest of materials yet full of beauty and vitality. Both exhibitions are drawn from the museum’s permanent collection.
“GLOBAL SPIRIT” features over 200 works, including handcrafted masks, puppets, dolls, instruments and baskets, as well as unexpected objects such as hat boxes, a lunch box and a three-foot-tall elephant made from paper and bamboo. The varied materials and subject matter represent the museum’s mission to celebrate human creativity in all forms, delighting viewers with their color, whimsy and beauty as they simultaneously reveal aspects of the lives and history of people from around the world.
“HUMBLE SPIRIT / PRICELESS ART” highlights objects created from everyday found materials—clay, straw, paper, cotton, tin—that are nevertheless full of spirit, beauty and delight, upending our traditional conceptions of “art.” This exhibition includes Japanese brushes, Mexican combs and kites from India. It honors craftspeople whose names are no longer known to us, but whose imagination, skill and creativity continue to enrich our lives.
In addition to the new exhibitions, newly commissioned works will be found throughout the museum, a highlight being Claudy Jongstra’s Truth & Beauty in Black—a 30’ mural exploring the cultural histories of indigo and black pigments installed in the new bistro.
Entry into the museum Labor Day weekend, Friday, September 3 through Monday, September 6, will be free for all. The museum will then be open to the public seven days a week, 10 am to 5 pm Saturday through Wednesday, with expanded evening hours until 8 pm on Thursdays and Fridays.