Glenn Adamson

Senior Scholar at the Yale Center for British Art

Kōgei is a bundle of ideas in one short word

After World War II, with the ravaged country in disarray, Japan desperately needed to rebuild its economy and its identity. Surprisingly, a unique art and craft tradition called kōgei played a key role in the country’s postwar reconstruction. Yet as curator and art historian Glenn Adamson tells Living Form, kōgei differs significantly from the craft revivals in America and the rest of the world.

As Glenn explains in the video above, kōgei is a specific bundle of ideas, something akin to “skilled art,” implying a level of tradition in object design. America doesn’t quite have an analogous term or, for that matter, a similar investment in craft making. The closest analog remains perhaps in Italy, where an artisanal economy exists outside the guild and factory models that dominate the West.

Amid renewed interest in kōgei, we spoke with Glenn about the intimacy of Japan’s family-based craft tradition, the evolution of kōgei in the digital age, and the international allure of these quiet objects.


Glenn Adamson

Glenn Adamson is a curator, writer, and historian who works across the fields of design, craft, and contemporary art. Currently editor-at-large of The Magazine Antiques and senior scholar at the Yale Center for British Art, Glenn was previously director of the Museum of Arts and Design, New York, and head of research at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.