The name Muji comes from the Japanese phrase Mujirushi Ryohin, which means “no-brand quality goods.” These days Muji stands for smart minimalist design at modest prices. Established as a line of inexpensive goods by a Japanese discount chain in 1980, Muji has spun into a global phenomenon, with 300 shops in Japan and roughly 50 more around the world.
Muji goods were introduced to this country in limited numbers by the Museum of Modern Art design shops, but last November the company opened its first U.S. store in New York’s SoHo neighborhood, with a flagship in Renzo Piano’s New York Times Building planned within the next year.
Muji sells some 7,000 products, from stationery and bath and kitchen accessories to small electronics and clothing (the parti-color socks made from leftover yarn ends are a favorite). The company hires star designers such as Jasper Morrison, Enzo Mari, and Konstantin Grcic but doesn’t promote or even identify them, in keeping with its modest approach.
There is a soothing, almost meditative quality to Muji’s minimalism. One of its signature products, Naoto Fukasawa’s wall-mounted CD player, a simple circular device with a pull cord, was inspired by the ventilation fans found in Japanese apartments. It’s a prime example of Muji’s Zen modernist ethos. As the company creed puts it, the aim is “moderation in all things except quality.”
The big Takashi Murakami survey exhibition that opened in Los Angeles comes to the Brooklyn Museum (April 4–July 13), while Haruki Murakami’s memoir What I Talk About When I Talk about Running will be published by Knopf in July.
Phaidon’s oversize monograph (taking a page out of Taschen’s book?) Le Corbusier Le Grand will be released in May. Also, Corbu is the subject of an exhibition at the Museu Berardo in Lisbon May 20 to August 15.
Museum Dining: A Global Tour
These days museums are creating sophisticated, chef-run restaurants that are destinations of their own. Our list of seven not to miss, with ordering suggestions. Art optional.
Castello di Rivoli Museum, Turin 39-011/956-5225; combal.org
Chef Davide Scabin is a pioneer of “concept cuisine.” Here, at his latest lab, he concocts dishes such as Cybereggs—a doughless egg yolk–and–caviar agnolotti in plastic that can be squeezed into the mouth—or a virtual oyster, consisting of watermelon, roe, and toasted almonds. All this in a 17th-century castle setting.
Eggplant with tomato; Carnaroli rice with artichokes; Asian-style salad with lightly cooked Sicilian shrimp; and candied ginger. —Ida Gianelli, the museum’s director
Gold of Africa Museum, Cape Town 27-21/422-1351; goldofafrica.co.za
This Cape Town newcomer features communal tables in a tree-lined 18th-century church courtyard and a retractable roof. Local food celebrities Lannice and Tamsin Snyman created the family-style Pan-African tasting menu, highlighting regional staples like bobotie: spiced meat topped with a savory custard.
Guests sample everything on the menu, but be sure to save room for the pumpkin fritters with cinnamon sugar. “It’s like biting into a little pillow of heaven.” —Tamsin Snyman, consultant to Gold
Museum of Modern Art, New York 212-333-1220; themodernnyc.com
In a Bauhaus-inspired setting worthy of modern art’s high temple, chef Gabriel Kreuther mixes Alsatian, French, and American influences, using seasonal ingredients. The lively Bar Room serves small plates to a swank postwork set, while the elegant main dining room overlooking MoMA’s sculpture garden offers a decadent prix fixe.
Morel soup with a slow-poached egg; monkfish, asparagus, morels, and vin jaune; and the strawberry-rhubarb vacherin. —Danny Meyer, restaurateur
Osterreicher im MAK
Museum of Applied Arts, Vienna 43-1/714-0121; osterreicherimmak.at
A recent upgrade of the MAK’s café, this now-hot spot is helmed by Helmut Osterreicher, who does a bifurcated menu of traditional and forward-thinking dishes using local ingredients. The interiors are a contemporary take on a Viennese inn, with a Lobmeyr wine-bottle chandelier and Austrian smoked-wood floors.
The chef’s daily special, such as crispy trout with cornflakes and curried onions; minced veal meatloaf; and cream of sweet curds with fresh fruit. —Peter Noever, the museum’s director
Guggenheim Bilbao; 34/944-239-333; restauranteguggenheim.com
Inside the torqued, deconstructed walls of Frank Gehry’s building, Josean Alija cooks with local, seasonal products and a no-extreme-heat policy. His combinations can be radical—say, a cream-of-pumpkin dessert perfumed with bergamot and accompanied by a crumbled biscuit and beer ice cream.
Selections from the tasting menu: red-onion gnocchi with baby-squid juice; sea bass with sherry; and a confection of coffee ice cream, chocolate, and hot marzipan. —Juan Ignacio Vidarte, the museum’s director
Le Saut du Loup
Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris 33-1/42-25-49-55; lesautduloup.com
The two-story black-and-white dining room overlooks the gardens of the Carrousel du Louvre. The convivial, ever-buzzing crowds of journalists and power-lunchers (midday) and fashionistas (late night) come for chef Pascal Bernier’s reinterpretations of classics like burgers and fries, beef tartare, and wild duck.
Crab cracker, tomatoes, avocado; seared tuna, crispy vegetables, and caramel; and the faux apple tiramisu with shortbread. —Stanislas Dewynter, owner
Wilson Food & Wine
Museum of Design Art and Architecture, Los Angeles; 310-287-2093
In L.A.’s wasteland-gone-hip Culver City, the restaurant has bright orange tables, funky seating, and environmentally kind Plyboo-clad walls, enhancing the casual vibe. Chef-owner Mikey Wilson—the son of Beach Boy Dennis—cooks up combos such as charred octopus with malt vinegar and slivered almonds, driven by what he finds fresh at the farmers’ market.
“The best sea bass carpaccio”; kurobuta pork belly slowly roasted in duck fat; and, if there’s room, the cheese selection. —Judit Fekete, MODAA curator and owner
High Taste: Glenn Lowry’s Perfect Meal
Director of the Museum of Modern Art since 1995, Lowry has spent a good deal of time visiting museums around the world. He also happens to be a major food enthusiast. Drawing from various international institutions, his curated meal.
Bowl of spiced nuts, at the Morgan Library & Museum, New York
Glass of Mercurey 1er Cru Clos Tonnerre, Rex Whistler Restaurant at Tate Britain, London
Roasted and smoked Iberian pork with a Palo Cortado wine infusion and cauliflower meringue, at the Restaurante Guggenheim Bilbao
Wild salmon with horseradish crust, cabbage, and Riesling, at the Modern Bar Room at MoMA, New York
Three Danish cheeses with orange caramelized walnuts and bread, at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art’s café, Humlebæk, Denmark
The Mad Auteur
In an era when movies usually come straight from the corporate cookie cutter, we tip our hat to Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin, whose utterly unique work is a giddy hybrid of silent film, Romantic music, and Nabokov. And he just keeps getting better and more daring.
His 2006 Brand Upon the Brain! was accompanied by live musicians, sound-effects artists, and celebrity narrators ranging from John Ashbery and Lou Reed to Maddin’s muse, Isabella Rossellini. His latest film, My Winnipeg, is his most delightful to date, a witty, poetic faux documentary about his hometown that mingles personal memories with flights of fancy (he insists the city is the sleepwalking capital of the world).
He’s currently developing a project with Kazuo Ishiguro while finishing up Death of the Reel, in which a filmmaker—played by Maddin—flies to Kansas City to rescue cinema from audiences lobotomized by watching rubbish on their iPods and cell phones. If anyone could save the movies, it’s Maddin.