Look at these awesome pictures! Photos by Richard Watanabe and Nobuyuki Okada.
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!!!
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 🙂
I have received a couple of inquiries as to the origin of the title for the Year of the Labbit show, so I thought perhaps an explanation was in order. I was not trying to confuse, confound, or humiliate anyone for not being able to pronounce Ls and Rs (like my mother planned to when she wanted to name me Laura so neither my Chinese nor Japanese grandparents would be able to say my name correctly –Lola, Rora,..)
The blank toy that was used for the show was an already existing product created by Kid Robot and the artist Frank Kozik. I wondered about the name since the toy had absolutely no reflection of any Asian influences. I assumed it was a combination of the Latin based word for “rabbit” which in French at least is “lapin” and “rabbit”, and left it at that. There were never any indications that this was aimed at an Asian audience, it never came with Asian themed accessories, and wasn’t questioned until I decided to use it for the blank canvas for this show, at this Museum, and called the show the Year of the Labbit.
I contacted the artist to ask him how the Labbit got its name. Frank told me that his first version of this toy was a mean-looking rabbit with a cigarette in its mouth and a scar on its forehead. I had seen this in his artwork as a “Smorkin’ Labbit”, and indeed several toy versions were made with variations of rabbits and other inanimate objects (like watermelons, hamburgers, etc. all smoking cigarettes.) Frank said that he sent his Smokin’ Rabbit design to Asia for final production. When he received his first shipment of packaged product, someone in Asia had changed everything to “Smorkin’ Labbit”! Rather than scrap the whole project and return everything for a re-do, he decided to let serendipity to play into his product and kept the name as is.
The version of Kozik’s toy we are using is called the Happy Labbit and is a little more family friendly and cute. But basically I chose it because its shape offered the most surface area for artists to paint on.
It seems like I’ve lost the race to reach this blog, but nevertheless I am delighted to introduce myself to you!
My name is Yuiko Sugino, a recent graduate from UC San Diego, and I am this year’s Production intern here at the Japanese American National Museum. You are probably aware by now from the previous posts that there are three interns total at this museum, and I am very excited to meet staff members and get to know one another through the next few weeks. It is unbelievable that two weeks have already gone by, yet every day seems to be different. To be honest, I was not exactly sure what to expect when I applied for this position as a production artist. And when I arrived and spent my first few days at the museum, I’ve noticed one thing: the reaction I received when I explained who my supervisor was.
“I’ll be working under Clement as a production intern.”
Responses: “Uh-oh.” “Seems like you’ve pulled the short straw.” “Good luck!” and the big-eyed, raised-brow facial expression with the stretched “Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.”
So it is fair to say that I have been warned. But I must say I am very excited and fortunate to have such active and humorous supervisors (the other being Mae, an equally kind yet quirky person with whom I love to converse) (I hope they are not offended by the adjectives I’ve chosen…). I must thank them in advance for everything they’ve offered me 🙂 Let me say that a Production internship entails so many interesting things! From using vinyl cutters to create the visual texts that are to be put up on the walls of an exhibition, to designing and applying small display panels by utilizing a laminating device (which I might add was quite frustrating at first, because the tape kept on creasing and causing bubbles to appear – so I had to redo a handful of them), so much has been drilled into my brain and hands. I have attended several meetings and a screening, and I’ve realized that there is so much to learn in terms of exhibition development, the history of this country as well as the nicks and knacks of networking. Not to mention the amount of food that exists in this building! I’ve been told that this place is not the place to be if you are on a diet… seems like my luck has run out. Through incredibly generous offers, losing weight is not going to happen for me within the next two months.
I am extremely anxious to learn and acquire the new skills and knowledge within the next couple of months, and I look forward to sharing that experience along with my fellow interns with you! And now, it seems like my 15-minute break has come to an end, so I will bid you a good day! Happy Wednesday, everyone!
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?
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?”
View more Xlab visitor videos >>
For anyone who’s been through X-Lab, what was your favorite activity?
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
I ran out of memory, so here is the rest of the deinstall in photos.
AmTap Deinstall 2011 pix
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.
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Cataloger/Data Asset Manager
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 >>
Have you seen the American Tapestry: 25 Stories from the Collection exhibition yet?
This weekend is your absolute last chance to see it before it closes this Sunday!
American Tapestry features artifacts, artwork, photographs, oral histories, and more from the Museum’s collection—some that have never been seen before by the public.
From the time we opened the exhibition way back in November, two of my personal favorites artifacts have been the radio and bicycle because they share stories of friendship, hope, and doing what’s right during the dark days of World War II and beyond.
In December, over the holidays, I was talking with family about the exhibition, and learned about a very similar story about an elephant. I wrote about it for our Discover Nikkei site. That’s one of the things that I really love about JANM—how I’m often able to find personal connections to the artifacts and stories we share.
Another favorite is the Japanese-style tub that was donated by the Esaki family of Monterey, CA. John Esaki works at the museum now, but the tub was donated very early in the museum’s history. John recorded a video of his dad explaining the history of the tub, which he added to the JANM YouTube channel last year as a resource for the exhibition.
The ofuro also played a special part in the Museum’s history! Back in April 1992, the museum was scheduled to have its Dedication Ceremony. Unfortunately, it ended up being the day after the Rodney King verdicts were released and civil disturbances erupted across the city, and so the opening ceremonies were postponed.
As a new opening event was being planned, staff invited Greg Alan Williams to come speak. At the time of the riots, the former Baywatch actor had saved a Japanese American man’s life. During his visit, he saw this ofuro and it reminded him of his own family’s tub. At the ribbon cutting ceremony, he spoke about how through this artifact, he was able to find his own personal connection:
On Wednesday last, I personally experienced the wonderful power within these walls. After completing my tour, I sat on a small stool around an old Japanese redwood hot tub in the Museum’s Legacy Center. I marveled at the way three Americans, two of Japanese descent, one a great-grandchild of Africa, were sitting around the tub, laughing, openly sharing their thoughts, their pain, and their hopes for a shared and much beloved community. I believe the honesty and openness of that dialogue was possible in part because this cultural work of art [the Museum] had illuminated our similarities, as it celebrated our differences. And in so doing, had opened a channel of communication between three human beings, which might not have otherwise existed. Such is the magic of this historical masterpiece.
American Tapestry has 25 artifacts, each with its own stories to tell. Most seem like everyday items, but I think that’s what makes this exhibition so special. It reminds us that our own lives are rich with stories that connect us with the world, if only we can stop for a moment to listen.
If you can, come check it out before it closes. If you have a smartphone or other internet-accessible device, bring it with you! We have free wi-fi available in the American Tapestry galleries so you can access additional related photos and videos on Facebook and YouTube.
For those who have made it out, I’d love to hear what your favorites were!
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Communications Production Manager