Sunday, January 20, 2008

Beyond Beyond Ultraman -- A New Year, A New Show 

I'm having a hard time wrapping my brain around the fact that Beyond Ultraman has come and gone already. The last day of the show we had a program with David Gonzales that brought in a standing-room-only crowd of over 150 to a space that held chairs for 70. It was a heady way to end a successful exhibition. A great front page article in the Pasadena Weekly preceded the event and attracted a wonderfully diverse crowd, many who had never visited the PMCA before.

We are still in the process of summarizing the metrics of the show (how many visitors, how many press imprints etc.) But here are a few factoids: The exhibit appeared on television three times – on KNBC news as part of Pasadena’s Art Night coverage (10/12/07); on KTLA as part of Gayle Anderson’s live broadcast (11/27/07); and again on KNBC for a solo piece by Cary Berglund on Beyond Ultraman (12/13/07). The exhibit was written up in the Los Angeles Times Guide section at the beginning and the end of the exhibition run. Other articles about the show appeared in Artillery Magazine and the Daily Bruin. David Gonzales was featured in two large articles because of the show – one in the LA Times and one in the Pasadena Weekly. We were a top listing on Flavorpill.com for many weeks and managed to appear in all the best blogs.

So where do we go from here? Well, we are currently working on another museum collaboration with the Japanese American National Museum, with an exhibition scheduled to open in 2009 (yes, 2009 does seem far away, but in museum time, it is tomorrow!) OK, I guess I can say this much, the show will be about kokeshi dolls – the simple, limbless wooden folk dolls that have come to embody Japanese-ness. But it won’t just be a display of old kokeshi dolls – it will have a LATDA twist to it which we hope will send people away with a broadened view of this cultural icon. We will be working with Christina Conway, curator of the lovely and wonderful kokeshi show at Subtext Gallery in San Diego. We will also be working with a number of artists and collectors as well as combing the National Museum’s permanent collection for significant kokeshi.

Since submitting the proposal for the new show, a number of eerie signs have come to pass that (to me)reinforce the energy of the venture. The best happened during a recent first visit to the Shine Gallery in Farmer’s Market led to the discovery of a pair of vintage kokeshi-shaped, hand-painted paper lanterns. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that there was a vintage cardboard box next to the lanterns, the assumption being that this was the box the lanterns were stored in. When I looked at the yellowed mailing label, it bore the logo of “Quon-Quon Co.” Imagine my astonishment, as this was where both my parents worked when they met. Cue a lower jaw-drop when the person whose name appeared in the address field of the 50+year-old box was a man that I knew had been a friend of my mother’s – who had no apparent connection to Quon-Quon, according to her. Well, maybe that doesn’t read as dramatically as it seemed to me as I stood over the case at Farmer’s Market, but it made me feel as if the kokeshi show was about to lead me to some very interesting connections. The pair of the Shine Gallery lanterns will be part of the exhibition.

Nothing, they say, can be harder than your first major exhibition. Beyond Ultraman was not only hard, it was audacious. Thanks to everyone who came to see our show and who became new members or supported LATDA’s mission by shopping. We hope to get faster at producing audacious and interesting shows for your enjoyment and edification. Your faith keeps us stoked!

P.S. Credit to my husband who pointed out the Quon-Quon box to me at the Shine Gallery!

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Post Party-um Reflections 

Mounting a major exhibition is not unlike giving birth, take heed all aspiring male curators, it is as close as you'll come to the pain and joy of childbirth.

Actually, I revisited many emotional states fom the past during the two weeks leading up to the opening of Beyond Ultraman. The night before the opening I experienced that old feeling of childhood: the night before Christmas. You lie awake in bed, knowing that you should go to sleep, unable to turn off your feverish brain, and worrying that if you don't go to sleep the magic part of the next day may never come. The agony of anticipation, the realization of desire, the knowledge that you need to rest to have strength to enjoy tomorrow. Then on the day of the reception, as I went through the motions of a normal workday at my day job, I was reminded of Halloweens of yore. Looking forward to dressing up and being someone different than normal, being able to leave the routine day early to gather with friends who are sharing in the special event. And then the demons of new relationships - Will they like the show? Will they like me? Was I too pushy? How's my breath?

So, here are some statistics from the first weekend of the exhibition (those of you linking from the LATDA email bear with me):

During the first five days of the show, over 3,000 visitors viewed Beyond Ultraman! The opening reception drew just under 500 people into the traffic on a Thursday night. Friday was Art Night in Pasadena, when shuttle buses delivered more than 2,000 people over a four hour period. On Saturday morning before the Bossy Bear reading and Mothman toy launch, people were standing in line waiting for the museum to open! All the Bossy Bears, large and small, were sold out before 3:00 PM. We went through 250 Homies in the vending machine in two days.

Sound bites on Art Night:
- A woman standing in the middle of the gallery called her friend on her cell phone and said, “You must come here immediately! This is the best exhibit I’ve ever seen!”
- A dazed young man was walking around looking at the exhibit. I asked him if he had any questions and he said, “I came to Art Night to see the exhibit at the Pacific Asia Museum but they were closed, so I came here. I am so glad I found this exhibit! Thank you for putting it together!”
- A woman who came to see the plein air painting show walked around and remarked to a friend, “This isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but it is really interesting!” She then walked over to the vending machine and bought a Homie.

The best visual reactions were those captured in the mirror behind the Homie display –- how often do you get to see people’s reactions to artwork they are viewing? I saw lots of smiles, some guffaws, and wide-eyed awe from people of all ages and backgrounds. It was the best affirmation of the exhibition one could receive.

As we were leaving the museum on Friday, there was a clutch of young people standing in front of the museum talking in the light rain (the rain was a surprise to us who were inside all night). I stopped and asked them what they thought of the show. It turned out that I was speaking to some heavy hitters in the vinyl art world –- Jonathan Cathey of Super Rad Toys, whose work was represented in the show in one of Brian McCarty’s photographs; Luke Chueh, also represented in a McCarty photo; and Joe Ledbetter, who has been a longtime supporter of PMCA and who I had hoped would be the subject of a new McCarty photograph in time for the exhibition. With each introduction, my eyes got bigger and my voice got higher as I recognized each artist’s name. I admitted I was surprised at how young they all were (and a voice from afar said, ‘They’re probably surprised at how old YOU are!’) and expressed that I hoped we would work together in the future. Beyond Ultraman is the first museum exhibition about the world of vinyl art toys, but it doesn’t mean it will be the only or last one.

We haven't processed the fact that the exhibition is up and running yet. I have to go back again and again to reassure myself that it really is open. Now we are thinking that it should travel...

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