Better than the Average Bear…or Should I say Rabbit?

I have been told that while perusing through a gallery space, the average person spends about 5 seconds in front of a work of art before moving on to another piece. I, myself, am guilty of this, as I have found myself racing through exhibits, which would take hours upon hours to properly absorb and appreciate. Although I have had the pleasure of being immersed in art from a variety of galleries and cultures, from the many we have here in Southern California to those on the East Coast and have seen a generous share works from renowned masters to local Michiganian artists, there unfortunately does not exist an encyclopedia of “Art Seen by Alexa” chronicling the art that I have seen in my lifetime. I’m one of the last people on this earth to have a photographic memory, so that’s understandable right? Pass by someone’s masterpiece and appreciate it for the time being, but soon it floats off into the deep dark abyss that are our forgotten memories. It happens. But I was recently taught the copious amounts of hard work that goes into us viewers being treated with eye-candy, museum style. And trust me, it deserves way more than the five-second glance us Plain Jane’s and Average Joe’s give it.

For the past few weeks, I have been given a taste into what it takes to bring an exhibition into fruition as we prepared for the opening of the museum’s new exhibit, Year of the Rabbit: Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo. I am not a nerd when it comes to the world of comic books, but educating myself in the world of Usagi Yojimbo was as easy as picking up a comic book, literally. Definitely something I wish I could have said for chemistry and calculus in high school. Portions of my past weeks have consisted of spending one-on-one time with Stan Sakai’s artwork as my fellow intern, Yuiko and I, transformed Stan’s works from being brilliant works on paper to being works on paper that are now matted, framed, and hanging in the galleries. Hours were spent in the Collections department as we measured, cut mats, drilled holes, and were reminded that our math skills were a little rusty from when we had last used them in high school.

Despite the refresher we needed on adding and subtracting, we successfully hauled plexi and frames around Collections and used power tools, which ultimately amounted into the works of Stan Sakai ready for your viewing pleasure. This was an invaluable opportunity to see original works up-close and personal as opposed to behind glass and a velvet rope. I am always a fan of not only final works, but the progress and process behind them and it was awesome to see the artist’s original pencil sketches underneath his final products in ink. At the end of our few weeks, everyone’s hard work was revealed and the museum’s new exhibition looks amazing! So if you’re ever in the mood to delve deeper into the world of Usagi Yojimbo or witness the culmination of the blood, sweat, and tears that went into the finalization of this exhibit, come check out Year of the Rabbit!!!

– Alexa

Could you hand me the paintbrush, please?

So it’s been a while since my last post, but perhaps such delay is due to the busy schedule and tasks that the Museum has wrapped itself around in preparation for the new exhibition of Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo.  The staff here at the Museum might have become numb and prone to the rushed and hectic atmosphere of getting ready for a new exhibition, but I found it quite amusing (and quite the workout as well).

I first began assisting the staff by matting and framing – and eventually drilling – the artist’s pieces that were to be hung on the walls.  Along with my fellow intern, Alexa, we took turns carefully measuring and cutting the matboards, and cleaning the plexi glass after they were ripped of their sticky wrappings (which required quite some strength, we were worried our arms would be sore the next day).  Every piece required a frame, and once an artwork was placed into one, we peered through the glass to make sure no debris were stuck between the piece and glass – and if there were any, we took a brush and shooed the unwanted away.  The drilling was perhaps the most “masculine” part of the experience, I felt like I was fighting  gender binaries: there I was wearing a white dress and heels, and what’s in my hand? That’s right, a macho screwdriver.

Every now and then, you could hear one – or both – of us sighing out of frustration from a dull blade or a miscalculation that was off by so much that I came to doubt myself when I used to say, “Oh yea, I’m pretty good at math.” Those days when I took calculus seemed like a dream.  One odd part of the whole thing was that neither Alexa nor I had access to Collections, and many times we found ourselves looking for someone to open the doors.  At one point, I felt extremely silly:  I spent nearly a half hour trying to look for Clement (because we all know that he’s everywhere and nowhere; I would see him throughout the building but whenever I actually am looking for him, he’s nowhere to be found).  Eventually I had to text Clement to see where he was, and soon enough I hear my name being announced.

But time flies when you’re working, which is a good thing (well, at least most of the time).

Of course, my favorite part was painting.  After much anticipation, Mae and I – along with other members of the staff – got to tracing and painting the walls with images of Usagi Yojimbo.  (I was told maybe a week earlier that I were to be painting, and every day I would come in and bother my supervisor, “Are they ready? Are we painting today?!”) Though I myself is an art major, I hadn’t painted in months, and I was very excited to paint such a large-scale image.  And when I did start painting, ahh the memories of being an art student flooded back in.  The trickiest part of the task was to reach the top areas with a ladder – and despite the fact that I used to do ballet and gymnastics, my sense of balance is not to be trusted.  Making sure the paint isn’t dripping onto the rest of the image is another challenge – a challenge that I must admit I could not at times accept.

Once the exhibition was set up, Saturday came upon us, and soon enough I found myself helping out children take pictures and make frames for Target Family Day.  As tiring as the day was, I had an immense amount of fun watching kids – and adults – grow their sense of creativity through wooden frames and bright-colored stickers.  (Though I’m not sure why there were stickers in the images of dimes and pennies… how random. But hey, you can’t have too much money, right?)  And the best part of it all? I got to take a picture and make a frame myself. which is staring back at me as of this moment while I type away this post 🙂

Yuiko

Labbit Custom Show UPDATE

Here’s an update on our Year of the Labbit Custom Show opening on Thursday!

Whew, working to open two shows a week apart is insane! It always gets done, often without all the behind-the-scenes drama showing up in the final product (see my last post re: drama.)  However some important items you should know: 1.) the Labbit Show opens at 6:30 PM on Thursday, July 14. We won’t unveil until then. 2.) Admission to the exhibition is FREE that evening. 3.) Some of the Labbits will be auctioned off on eBay through out the run of the show. These include Labbits by Mike Shinoda, Kip Fulbeck, higashi glaser and Stan Sakai. The auctions will be posted on the Year of the Labbit page on our web site. Each auction will last a week so you will have plenty of time to bid.

Online sales for the other pieces will be up (gulp!) hopefully by the opening night. I can’t tell you exactly when, but keep checking our site. We won’t start selling until the show opens however.

Year of the Rabbit: Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo opens July 9th

What a pretty banner!

 

SAVE THE DATE:

On Saturday JULY 9, 2011, Year of the Rabbit: Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo opens to the public.

Admission is also free because July 9th is our Target Free Family Saturday! And for all you Stan Sakai fans–he will be at JANM for a demonstration, talk, and signing of his new book, Usagi Yojimbo Volume 25: Fox Hunt.

For more information about our Target Day, visit: yay, janm events!

Year of the Labbit

Anyone who has ever organized a custom toy show will tell you that when the art starts rolling in, it’s like you are having your own private Christmas. The quality and ingenuity of the work is very high for this show and we are now thinking that some of the pieces may be auctioned off during the run of the exhibition. Details to come!

The task of photographing all these pieces and prepping them for the web store hasn’t gotten started yet, but I wanted to share a few teasers that were created from photos sent to me by the artists.

I’m not sure what order these will come up in, but the artists are Konatsu, Mark Nagata, and Stan Sakai. I’m sure you will be able to figure out who did what!

X-Lab Evokes Conscious Dialogue

I work in Visitor Services, so I open and close the galleries a few days each week. Lately, I’ve noticed that whenever I walk into X-Lab, something is always different–whether it’s the rifled-through laminated newspapers at the 1940s radio or new drawings on our “Only What You Can Carry” magnet board.

The following post-it activity is the one activity that has changed the most over time. You see–I’m all about conscious dialogue, so this activity in particular is one of my favorites. When the exhibition team put X-Lab together, they posed a question on our wall. In several weeks’ passing, the question became so hotly debated, it was as if our visitors themselves were evolving the activity. It reminds me of a some sort of crazy online comic book message board, except that it’s all about civil rights–not so much Batman vs. Superman.

Red post-its mean “NO”, yellow post-its mean “UNDECIDED”, and blue post-its mean “YES”. Our question was:

“Is it important to OBEY government rules in times of national crisis even if it means LOSS of privacy and civil rights?”

Some responses were:

YES, because… “in times of crisis, governments tend to react drastically, and I need to keep my family and I as safe as I possibly can.”

UNDECIDED, because… “in a time of emergency, you look to your government for help; however, privacy is highly important for anyone and so are a person’s rights as a human!”

NO, because… “if the rules go against the basic fundamentals of equality and freedom, then it goes against what it means to be a U.S. citizen.”

So how would YOU respond?

Xploration Lab

X-Lab Visitor Videos!

Our newest, most current exhibit, Xploration Lab, is a part-classroom, part-prototype “black box” exhibit. Visitors can participate and experiment with hands-on activities designed to engage audiences of all ages about the World War II Japanese American experience.

In laying the groundwork for X-Lab, our team of curators, education specialists, media arts producers and designers envisioned an exhibit that would uniquely grab the attention of visitors—spawning the development of several activities. Some of these activities include a vintage 1940s-era radio that you can tune to World War II broadcasts;  J.A. Express, which is a video montage encapsulating several decades of Japanese American pre-War history into 180 seconds; and an “only what you can carry” chamber, which emulates the urgency facing families who were forced to  pack their lives into a single suitcase in preparation for removal as President Roosevelt decreed in Executive Order 9066.

The exhibition team genuinely wanted to consider how our visitors would react to X-Lab. In order to capture these reactions, we installed a large touchscreen iMac–equipped with a webcam and a microphone. This was used to record visitor responses to our thought-provoking questions, such as:

“Imagine if the government suspected you of being disloyal, how would you respond?”

http://www.youtube.com/user/janmdotorg#p/c/BACC8700A9E554FE/0/wEwQmqlg6xk

View more Xlab visitor videos >>

Xploration LabXploration Lab
Through June 12, 2011
Japanese American National Museum

 

For anyone who’s been through X-Lab, what was your favorite activity?

 

1 artwork, 2 units, 5 people, 45 minutes

Have you ever wondered what happens to the artifacts you see hanging on walls or sitting in cases in a museum after an exhibition is over?

Here’s a little peek at our collections and production units’ staff at work deinstalling Momo Nagano’s “American Families” tapestry in the Taul & Sachiko Watanabe Gallery after the closing of the exhibition, American Tapestry: 25 Stories from the Collection.

AmTap Deinstall 2011 video

From AmTapDeinstall2011video

I ran out of memory, so here is the rest of the deinstall in photos.

AmTap Deinstall 2011 pix

From AmTapDeinstall2011video

The tapestry is back on its shelf in our climate controlled collections storage. You can see the hygrothermograph on the shelf above to monitor temperature and humidity.

So, that was just one object out of 25 stories presented in the exhibition. Others had special mounts, supports or cases with accompanying text panels.  In Norman Mineta’s archival collection alone there were 31 boxes displayed on shelves enclosed within 3 cases.  After all the objects are removed, or in the case of the “American Families” tapestry as objects are deinstalled, Collections staff write a condition report on the artifact which is updated in our collections management database. The artifact is rehoused and returned to storage or, if it is a loan, to loaning institution or individual, which is a whole other ball of wax.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Cheryl Toyama
Cataloger/Data Asset Manager

Stan Sakai: The Cartoonist

Stan & Sharon Sakai at the 2011 Japanese American National Museum Gala Dinner

We recently honored cartoonist Stan Sakai at our 2011 Gala Dinner where he was awarded the Cultural Ambassador Award.For those of you who are not familiar with his work, he’s best known for his iconic character, Usagi Yojimbo—a samurai rabbit in feudal Japan, which he created in 1984.

His comic books have been translated into a dozen languages and in Empire magazine’s list of greatest comic book characters of all time, Usagi Yojimbo placed 31st, ahead of Green Lantern, Daredevil, and Hellboy!

We’re also working with Stan on a retrospective exhibition of his work that opens on July 9. Our award-winning Watase Media Arts Center staff is working on a short documentary to accompany the exhibition. Last summer they went to the Comicon in San Diego where they interviewed some of his fellow cartoonists who all agreed that he’s one of the nicest guys in the business. After meeting him, we all agree and can’t wait for his exhibition!

Chris Komai, the Public Information Officer at JANM, wrote an article about Stan for the Gala Dinner journal. It’s now online on our Discover Nikkei site:

Stan Sakai: The Cartoonist
by Chris Komai
Read the article >>

For more info about the upcoming exhibition:

Year of the Rabbit: Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo
July 9 through October 30, 2011
Learn more about this exhibition >>

Stan Sakai drawing Usagi Yojimbo on stage at the 2011 Gala Dinner. Photos by Tracy Kumono.