Blurring Boundaries | Ryuji Mitani Exhibition Recap

Last month was the month of Ryuji Mitani! Almost everything sold out at the exhibition but there is a small selection of items that are currently going online. It’s a bitter sweet feeling for us to hand off these rare pieces that sold but its given rise to an unprecedented amount of documentation from the team. Our favorite images is a 35mm series that Ingmar Chen took around the store during the installation and opening, a vintage feel fitting for Mitani-san’s personal style. Here they are mixed in with images from our adventures with Mitani-san in upstate NY.

We designed low display tables for this exhibition to showcase Mitani-san’s collection from a low vantage point. The beauty in his works lies in the urushi lacquering within the pieces and we wanted to showcase that feature from above.

The opening was an amazing night! So many people came out to see Ryuji Mitani. We were especially eager to welcome the avid collectors who flew from all over the world to attend. Junko-san, Mitani-san’s wife, flew in from Japan along with some of their close friends like Natsumi-san (wife of architect Yoshifumi Nakamura). Mitani-san brought cross-shaped cookies from his gallery in Matsumoto called ‘10cm’. The shape is the Japanese character for the number ten, a motif you can see in a lot of Mitani-san’s works like the Jū Cross Plate and cross trivet.

We had been dying to work with our neighbors Momofuku KO since the day we both simultaneously opened our doors for business on Extra Place and felt like this was the perfect occasion. They went above and beyond to provide bites for the opening. The menu included Uni Tart, Chicken Oyster, Arancini and Scallops served on Mitani-san’s large Serving Trays. The work of culinary and woodworking greats, though in different industries, married beautifully.

Thanks to an amazing group of people for helping make the show a big success. Great crew to kick off an exhibition week with!

Throughout the rest of the week we did some site seeing with the Mitanis in New York. Mitani-san also wanted to bring us to the Hancock Shaker Village Museum in Massachusetts as he fondly remembered his experience there over a decade ago when he went with Yoshifumi Nakamura. We packed a car and headed North with the Mitanis along with Aya, her husband Atsushi Miwa, and Natsumi-san.

We could see why Mitani-san liked the museum. The Hancock Shaker Village is utopia for craft lovers. The grounds of this particular Shaker settlement, that dates back to the late 1700s, is incredibly well maintained, there are original Shaker craft items abound, and many are available to touch and use. They also have demonstrations of the machinery and farming tools that you can try your hand at.

Visiting the Hancock Shaker Village became a catalyst to take a trip to Hudson for antique shopping. We met up with Matthew Johnson who recently moved to Hudson with his wife, interior designer Amy Row, and had a lovely family din at Rivertown Lodge where we were staying. It was a nice chance to reminisce on the making of the exhibition video Matt created.

When we were back in the city, Mitani-san spent much of his time at the exhibition, giving visitors the opportunity to put a face to the work, an extra special experience for people bringing pieces home with them because Mitani-san has stories about all the pieces he makes.

Every exhibition we organize a collaboration piece with the artisan or designer. In commemoration of our Blurring Boundaries exhibition, we worked with Ryuji Mitani to create a piece that blends both cultures and traditions – American sundaes and traditional Japanese craftsmanship. The goal was to produce the ultimate ice cream cup! Which is what we effectively tried to do by means of a perfectly round bowl that fits comfortably in the hand, signature white urushi lacquer finish and footed circular stand. Not visible in the photos is the best part, which is the beautiful brush strokes at the bottom of the bowl much like the marks of the White Urushi Rimmed Bowl. We love the idea of eating your way to the bottom of a piece to reveal a beautiful surprise. Unfortunately, we sold out out of the ice cream cup in a day but the good news, for those patient enough, is that Ryuji Mitani is making a limited amount for 2018!

The night before they left back to Japan we gave Mitani-san a vinyl record that we had made him as a souvenir with the help of Pablo Luis. Pablo curated the mix for the exhibition opening, a continuing tradition that goes back to our very first exhibition at the store. The full-length mix that played at the opening reception is available here.

We’ve had the opportunity to spend quality time with Ryuji Mitani, we’ve learned his language with wood and we have memories that will carry on for a lifetime but we couldn’t have pulled off this particular exhibition without the help of a lot of people coming together to make it happen. Huge thank you to Ryuji Mitani, Junko Mitani, Aya Nihei, John Medley, Armando Rafael Moutela, Matthew Johnson, Pablo Luis, Ingmar Chen, Ainsley Moy, Nau Kim, Riza Arrieta, Faraday Okoro, Sujin Lee and the team at Momofuku KO. 

Written by Angélique Chmielewski

Angélique Chmielewski

November 15, 2017

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