The sense of simplicity in Japanese design in a beautiful exhibition that brings 150 objects into dialogue with the masterpieces of Italian design

It's easy to say simple. But then, when we investigate the meaning of the Japanese word that indicates simplicity, we discover that in the land of the Rising Sun it is something a little more complicated than in this part of the world.

To tell that simplicity Rossella Menegazzo, professor of Asian art history at the University of Milan with the designer Hara Kenya, developed the exhibitionOrigin of Simplicity. 20 visions of Japanese design at the ADI Design Museum in Milan.

She gets to the heart of the problem. Or to hearts because simplicity is expressed in twenty words and 150 objects. Are they all equally simple?

There are different degrees of complexity to deal with. First, the setup. An island in the center of a room of the museum hosts the exhibition, while along the external perimeter there is a permanent exhibition with the masterpieces of Italian design: dialogue is inevitable.

For Hara Kenya the central space is something very special because it allowed him to have a unique communication between Japanese and Italian design and this, he underlined, "is the exhibition I see". Are correspondences, differences, fruitful comparisons and creative cultural stimuli the result of simplicity?

Perhaps, certainly this is an opportunity to do so. As for the island of Japan, almost as if it were a synecdoche of the archipelago it narrates, it is a kind of semantic forest. The keywords are indicated vertically on a pole/tree which gathers around itself creatives from different eras to tell that concept and the visitor moves following his own instinct among the “paths” that are created around groups of objects.

A certainly immersive experience in Japanese philosophy.

Second, the choice of key words. They must tell not only the simplicity of shapes and materials but also (and above all) an adhesion to nature in a spiritual sense, as happens in literature, art, but also in the preparation of food.

Buddhism and Zen thought add up to animism in contemporary Japan, as the curator Menegazzo explained in a speech on the empty as a divine space >.

These are the bases of the research that goes from 1950 to today along the concepts of Air, One, Raw, Offered, Recycled, Natural, Primitive, Forged, Malleable, DIY, Double Face, Pleated, Transparent, Knotted, Multiplied, Irreversible, Living Organisms , Mimicry, Compact, Indigo.

If some are easy to understand even for the Western observer in terms of simplicity (such as air, the one, the transparent, perhaps even the natural) others are certainly part of a rather broad idea simple: pleated, knotted, multiplied... And the objects found under the corresponding trees are nothing but the fruits of such complicated simplicity.

Third, the indefiniteness of the forms of the Japanese language, Menegazzo always explains, makes what is not said more important rather than the opposite.

«There is no need for scientific appropriateness, the nuance of something can be left unsaid», explains the curator, «And in design we find the overlap of many shapes, colors that fade. Which become landscape: the Japanese language is landscape and it is a very different approach from ours."

Therefore, the simple complexity or complex simplicity of Japanese culture is expressed in this exhibition through a series of objects carefully selected and displayed in an installation compared to the design of our home.

So you walk next to super linear chairs in wood or metal, to arrive in front of pleated origami with an extremely complex architecture, preformed metal sheets ready for a simplified trust, passing through lamps-organisms livings, objects in recycled materials and traditional objects, spanning approximately 70 years of design history.

All you have to do is look up to find yourself in front of the Uno, a simple, rational and spacious Fiat car... or the bent tube designed by Albini for the Milanese subway, an essential yet iconic handrail. Simple, right?

The game works very well because Japan is the territory of a whole, a sort of container of planetary influences which then express themselves in a peculiar way but which easily resonate when compared with other cultures. Perhaps simplicity also lies in this: Japanese design appears simple to us, somehow we enter into harmony with those objects.

But the secret is not to look for the words to express that harmony. Observing, watching, comparing, mixing thoughts and returning to contemplate the semantic forest staged at the ADI Design Museum is all you need to find your own indefinite answer to the question of what simplicity is.

Origin of Simplicity. 20 visions of Japanese Design
Adi Design Museum, piazza Compasso d'Oro 1, Milan, until 9 June