JANM Trustee and attorney Gordon Yamate gives an overview of JANM’s new exhibition and virtual reality experience, Glenn Kaino: Aki’s Market. Yamate initially connected the Museum with the artist, Glenn Akira Kaino. Kaino’s grandparents are Akira and Sachiye Shiraishi (Kaino is Akira’s grandson and namesake).
An art expert who understands the importance of integrating art into the Museum’s storytelling and the role that art plays in creating empathy and teaching valuable lessons, Yamate is involved in numerous charitable, civic, and cultural organizations and serves on boards for a number of cultural organizations such as the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art.
“A Roadmap to Glenn Kaino: Aki’s Market” by Gordon Yamate
Now that I have been anointed as an “art expert” by our President and CEO, Ann Burroughs (I’m still pinching myself), I’d like to offer my comments on Glenn Kaino: Aki’s Market because I suspect many of our regular visitors to the JANM will be scratching their heads wondering if they missed something when they view the exhibition.
Let me start with some background about Glenn Kaino. He is a conceptual artist. That means his work isn’t necessarily pretty or conventional art on the wall. Glenn is concerned with ideas, concepts and memories—how we perceive things—but he goes a step further here. This isn’t a typical Glenn Kaino exhibition, if a typical one exists. This is an exhibition that is deeply personal to Glenn, much like the stories that we experience at JANM. So, a lot of the works have a tie to Glenn’s life, and we learn a lot more about him than in his other previous exhibitions.
Let’s start with the virtual reality portion of the exhibition first. Yes, the wait in line can be a bit tedious, and even Glenn jokes that he created a zine to give you something to do while you wait. Definitely read the zine. It’s your guide to what you will see and experience, and the context that Glenn provides is essential. There are skateboard decks, a set of three Akira portraits as you enter, and a huge ninja doll. Without the zine, none of this seems connected or makes sense. So, read the zine. It all makes sense.
There are two what I call “infinity” sculptures on the opposite side of the room. Like works from Glenn’s With Drawn Arms exhibition based on Tommy Smith’s raised fist salute at the 1968 Olympics, Glenn incorporates an element of illusion in creating these works. In With Drawn Arms he utilized a casting of Smith‘s raised arm to create an image of a suspended arm that replicates into the distance, like Yayoi Kusama’s mirrored infinity rooms that go on forever. Glenn’s use of this technique in “Taken Inventory” goes deeper. In “Taken Inventory (Keep Stock),” the unlabeled Spam cans provide a subtle reminder of the “American” cuisine served to Japanese Americans during their incarceration. Although the arrangement of the cans initially brought to my mind what I imagined an Amazon warehouse would look like, it also conjured up the arrangement of the barracks in the various WRA concentration camps that would extend into the horizon as far as the eye can see—a graphic visualization of the huge number of people that were affected by Executive Order 9066. Even the title “Taken Inventory” alludes to the deprivation and loss of rights, property, and opportunities and how “inventory” dehumanizes individuals when Japanese Americans were issued identification number tags that they wore from the point of departure to the temporary detention centers and ultimately the camps.
In “Taken Inventory (Endless Field),” Glenn laments his grandfather’s loss of attending Occidental College, where he would have gone on a football scholarship, if not for the intervention of Executive Order 9066. Glenn writes that his grandfather was one of the best high school football players in Los Angeles despite his size (weren’t all football players smaller in those days?). Upon closer inspection, Glenn uses what I think is a vintage set of Electric Football figurines propelled on the field by a vibrating table—a rather primitive game that preceded football video games. In this sculpture, the same football game replicates forever—a fitting metaphor for a game that never started nor ended for his grandfather.
We see other snippets of Glenn’s approach to creating art—the use of spontaneous combustion in the aptly titled “Spontaneous Combustion,” where exothermic reactions create the work, leaving an unexpected ghost of an American flag. He invites us into a memory of his grandparents’ grocery store that was created from his interviews with his initially reluctant mother, and stories he remembers being told about the store when he was growing up. Even though Glenn did not meet his grandfather Aki, who passed away before he was born, and never set foot in the store, Glenn saw the importance of the store to his family and the East LA community that it served. What the store lacked in product breadth, it offered in convenience. Where else could you find “Gordon’s” bread loaves of the now defunct LA bakery stocked above cans of flammable liquids (was that kerosene)? The graininess of the video (at least in the virtual reality version that I experienced) adds a nostalgic touch—you feel less a customer in the store but more a special guest in this market of curated goods for the neighborhood. Glenn’s work makes us appreciate what we often take for granted. The lilting voice of his daughter, Stella, responding to his grandmother’s parting farewell and wish to “come back soon” leaves the visitor with memories that will continue to be passed down through generations.
Now on View
Glenn Kaino: Aki’s Market is now on view through January 28, 2024. The Los Angeles Times calls this virtual reality exhibition “a captivating theater of dreams.” Experience it for yourself during your next visit to JANM!
For more information about the exhibition and VR experience availability, visit janm.org/glenn-kaino. An audio tour is available through the website and JANM’s guide in the free Bloomberg Connects app.
This blog post was updated on January 23, 2024.