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.

So that was the first starting point for what eventually became the Beyond Ultraman show – an exhibit showing the parallels between the rise of kokeshi making/collecting in Japan moving into the West, and the rise of vinyl toy making/collecting from Japan and other parts of Asia moving into the West. History-repeats-itself sort of show. And within that, an exploration of gender roles between makers and collectors. Sounds pretty cool, no? Well, after doing a lot of research on kokeshi, the concept of the exhibition and fit for a venue underwent drastic changes, and kokeshi fell by the wayside.

Still, it never left our minds that kokeshi were an interesting phenomenon. During casual conversation with people of all sorts, we discovered that there were almost as many closet kokeshi enthusiasts in the art world as vinyl toy lovers. To date though, only one book dedicated to kokeshi has been published in English, whereas many have been published in Japanese – some on single artists!

Then last year, through some of the casual kokeshi connections that were established during the R & D phase, we got word of a show at Subtext Gallery in San Diego. It was like your basic custom vinyl toy show – get a platform or canvas toy and send it to a bunch of swell artists and ask them to customize them in their own style. But this show was using wooden kokeshi as blanks.

The Kokeshi Show at Subtext was the brainchild of Chris Conway, a San Diego graphic designer and illustrator with a degree and interest in Art Education. Her 2007 exhibition consisted of 85 customized wooden kokeshi dolls produced by 78 artists from 13 different countries. Her interest in the designer toy culture combined with a desire to see a more feminine and positive influence in that movement led her to use the kokeshi doll as a vehicle for a custom toy. She also connected her exhibition to the Japanese Bunka-no-hi, or Culture Day. (Conway has a strong link to Japan through her father who was stationed there and exposed her to all manner of Japanese culture.)

Suddenly the idea of a larger exhibition about kokeshi started to take on a new shape and relevance. We took a trip down to see the show in San Diego and meet the curator. And LATDA is now in the throes of developing its next exhibition.

Until the ink is set on a contract, we aren’t at liberty to announce the venue, but we do have a tentative date set for June 2009. It’s a much shorter lead time than the last exhibition, but as we mentioned, we had some work done already. And lest you think we are skimping on scale to get this done, know that we will be including the work of about a dozen artists some who are not local, and that Chris Conway will be curating another of her shows that will be part of our exhibition – a show within a show – and she is targeting 100 artists from all over the world!

What we need to do ASAP is fundraise for this exhibit. As always, we are mindful of tight budgets and bad economies, but the support of our members is always appreciated when it comes to paying the increased costs of postage and printing.

Watch this space!