Well, LA-T-DA…

How does one make a comeback after an absence of nine years? In reading the archived blog posts I am astonished at how it seems we dropped off the face of the earth after the Kokeshi show in 2009.

And how portentous the last entry was--Good-bye Kokeshi, Hello Kitty--because, you see, even though LATDA was not producing exhibitions over the past years, yours truly was working a day job at another museum which was basically directing my creativity in another (more funded) direction. That Hello Kitty exhibition that I was longing for? Well, it happened at the Japanese American National Museum in 2014. And though I was not the curator of that exhibition, I would humbly say that I did have a part in bringing the show to fruition.

Painting by Mark Nagata

Painting by Mark Nagata

In 2011, JANM also produced an exhibition highlighting the wonderful work of Stan Sakai. Usagi Yojimbo was a comic book character that was fully on the radar of LATDA. Part of that exhibit included a custom show incorporating Frank Kozik’s Labbit customized by nearly 50 artists. See that connection there? Art toys in the museum again?

And now it’s happening again. This time I am officially curating an exhibition about an old friend of LATDA’s, Mark Nagata. This is a special treat to highlight the work and life of one of the primary inspirations for the Beyond Ultraman show. I don’t think Mark realizes that when BU was originally being developed it was a Japanese American-centric exhibition about popular culture for the Japanese American community. Mark’s passion and career embodied a very special story. When it became clear that JANM wasn’t ready to delve into popular culture exhibitions, the story evolved into a California art story that ultimately ended up at the Pasadena Museum of California Art. (BTW — when JANM saw the popularity of Beyond Ultraman at PMCA and the Takashi Murakami exhibition at MOCA, they hustled together a show about Giant Robot.)

Many other factors contributed to LATDA’s recession. I like to blame Steve Jobs in part when he rendered Flash unusable on small screen devices. Our wonderful, but long in the tooth, website became dead in the water to anyone with an iPhone. To recover and redesign as compelling a site that was as “responsive” and iFriendly was beyond LATDA’s capacity at the time. We have been slowly trying to regain what we had but it will never be quite as delightful. But we are slow-launching our new webstore (to raise money for our redesign) and reassembling and formatting our old content.

We have created social media sites on Facebook and Instagram, and have attracted new followers through those platforms, but it is not the same without having a live show to hang one’s hat on.

Our early model was that we would create shows by partnering with brick and mortar entities. After Kokeshi, we were approached by one (who shall remain nameless) to develop an exhibition that related to their mission and LATDA’s. We were bound by an incredibly tight deadline (three months) in which time we submitted three full-blown ideas, all of which were slowly considered and then rejected at the last minute. It was a painful and disheartening experience, but not unusual in this world.

We then thought that perhaps it was time to change it up and find a temporary space and create an exhibition unfettered by the partnering with others. For once we hoped we could fly on our own and show what we were really about. In fact we even stumbled on a mobile space—a decommissioned mobile museum. However, this space proved to be more difficult than we expected... since it required a hauling vehicle (with driver) that we did not have, and with space constraints.

With our new web site, we are hoping to share some of these recent exhibition ideas even if they are only virtual. Instead of waiting for a brick and mortar location, we are forging ahead and creating exhibitions online. If there are venues that would like to provide a real space to house our shows: fine; but they will be created complete and ready to go.

Follow us on Facebook & Instagram! Can’t stop this…

On Mascots and Imaginings

You'll see Jocko and his ilk popping up in various guises here and on LATDA collateral (should you choose to become a member). It was decided early that the generically named Jocko should become the frontman for LATDA. Why? Because everybody loves monkeys (we were told), and this is a museum that needs to be loved... for survival.
Even in the face of criticism that argues that simian imagery undercuts what should be a staid museum image, Jocko gamely continues to help us monkey with the process of imagining what LATDA should be.

On the eve of another LATDA milestone (the mounting of a major exhibition that will have broad appeal as well as sub-culture support... a show that hits cutting edge notes along with some history-tinged ones... a show overflowing with gorgeous kokeshi (wait...you don't know what kokeshi are? HINT: they are the "d" in LATDA), we apologize for not imagining LATDA as a stuffy hall filled with dinosaurs. No, thanks to Jocko's hard work, KOKESHI: FROM FOLK ART TO ART TOY gIves LATDA a home, if only for 3 months, in two museum galleries packed with... glorious, crazy, beautiful obsession.

Word is getting out!

Even though the press release went out with an incorrect word in the title (mea culpa, I did proof it, but missed the version of the title in the header) posts are appearing daily about the impending opening of the exhibition. Today I ran across this curious one from a blog that appears to be affiliated with Sanrio.

I can't figure if it was translated from English to Japanese and back to English again.

July 3rd, 2009 | Tags:
A brand new exhibition, Kokeshi: From Folk Toy (see above) to Art Toy, orderly by a Los Angeles Toy, Doll & Amusements Museum in partnership with a Japanese American National Museum , will move together a normal Japanese doll with hundreds of examples of la mode [wha?]as well as law [is this the translation for "custom"?] kokeshi combined by American as well as general artists commencement upon Jul …

Well, any PR is good PR!

Kokeshi Are Coming

Yes, many kokeshi are coming to the Japanese American National Museum in a collaborative exhibition with LATDA. It's a lot of work conceiving and birthing over 300 babies, and we aren't even talking about the artists. Yet. But I thought you'd be interested to see how the curator-in-chief spends her evenings. Designing the show? No. Haranguing for money? No. Designing the caterer's platter? See for yourself.

Oh, and despite what the blog says, Maria didn't post this.


Edible Kokeshi
© LATDA Museum

Toy Challenge Redux

Toy Challenge Redux

As usual, the judges consisted of professionals and students from the science and engineering spectrum (it was, after all, sponsored and organized by Sally Ride SCIENCE). Among the minority fields represented were myself and Deborah Ryan, department chair in Toy Design at Otis College of Art and Design.

Although the competition is aimed at encouraging young girls to compete in fields that could lead to careers in science and engineering, boys were allowed to be part of each team. Similarly the judges were gender-balanced and I had an equal difficulty understanding...

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Kokeshi Krazy

Kokeshi Krazy

When we were first thinking about vinyl art toys as a subject for a show, we tried to put them in some sort of historical context (because that’s what museums do…contextualize objects). An interesting parallel to individual artists mixing specific personal style with mass production happened in Japan in the mid -19th century with the popularization of kokeshi, the limbless, wooden, folk dolls. In fact, one of the artists whose work is associated with the current art toy movement describes his work as modern day kokeshi.

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

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. ...

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