Let’s Review: Israel craft retrospective shines at Mingei Museum

News about Israel is not often as good as “Israel: 70 Years of Craft and Design,” the new exhibition at the Mingei International Museum. Presented in collaboration with Balboa Park’s House of Israel, it’s a display that includes ornate religious objects and ingenious contemporary pieces and celebrates the nation’s diversity as well as its 70th anniversary.

In Israel, they celebrated their 70th “Independence Day” on April 18 and 19, and the Mingei had its own celebrations with a Directors Circle preview on the evening of the 18th and a Members’ Opening the following night.

According to House of Israel curator Smadar Samson, who organized the exhibition, Israel’s craft and design history is “short and erratic, yet what it lacks in visual tradition, it makes up for with innovation, improvisation and sophistication.”

A native of Israel, she chose a range of objects that give a sense of her country’s story. “They not only combine aesthetics and functionality but also serve as repositories of values and meaning,” she wrote, in an introduction to the show.

“These 125 objects reveal the imagination, skill, passion and grit of a people making their way in the world,” said Rob Sidner, the Mingei’s Executive Director/CEO. “And Smadar is a scholar who’s clear in her vision yet open to others’ ideas. This has been a wonderful collaboration. It gave us an opportunity to do something that neither of us could do on our own.”

It could easily have been a missed opportunity. When Smadar Samson first proposed the idea a year and a half ago, the Mingei staff was planning to close for a year of renovations in January. They pushed the date ahead to September in order to do the exhibition.

Most of the works had to be shipped from Israel, an expensive undertaking. The most interesting objects are the contemporary ones, one of which, a large-scale glass and polymer piece lit by internal light bulbs, was especially commissioned for the show.

But the mix of European and Arab influences, Old and New World sensibilities, the elaborate embroidery of an early-20th century Palentinian dress handmade by an unknown woman and the flashy silk and 3-D printer-enabled mini-dress by 21st-century designer Noa Raviv present captivating contrasts.

Take time to read the descriptive labels, all written by Samson. They add a real feel for the context of the designs.

IF YOU GO: “Israel: 70 Years of Craft and Design,” is on view 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday-Sunday until Sept. 3 at Mingei Museum, 1439 El Prado, Balboa Park. Admission: $7-$10. (619) 239-0003.