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The Biennale: Notes and Thoughts

In celebration of its 50th issue and in collaboration with the Japanese American National Museum, the pop-culture magazine Giant Robot has assembled works by ten cutting-edge artists from around the country in Giant Robot Biennale: 50 Issues.

This exhibition is the first in the National Museum's Salon Pop series that includes collaborative displays that focus on Asian American pop culture. The public’s response to the exhibition has been extremely positive with its largest ever opening to date.

The exhibition closes this weekend with an Artists Roundtable moderated by curator Eric Nakamura of Giant Robot on Saturday, January 12 at 2 p.m. and a final chance to see the exhibition on Sunday, January 13, 2008. Please visit the exhibition Web site for more information.

 

The E-mail

Discover Nikkei asked Nakamura to provide some behind-the-scenes insight into putting this project together. –ed.

Clement Hanami sent me an e-mail on August 26 that started:

"Hi Eric. This is Clement from the Japanese American National Museum. Saw your show and thought it was great. I have a question…”

Clement is the National Museum’s art director. He wrote me in response to a show I curated for Scion at their space in Culver City. His operative question was how long would it take? I expect museums to have a lead time of at least a year, but for this show at the National Museum, Clement was talking two months, a land speed record. Could I rally my artist friends to give me work in that time? Would all preparation and promotion be taken care of in time?

An offer of doing the show next year instead was brought forth. Sure, I could easily wait, and who knows where the museum would be with this idea in that time. They might change their minds! Instead, I pleaded to have Clement give me a normal lead time to make a following "proper" show happen, if I were to make this one happen in two months. Of course, my best foot forward would be nearly impossible for this show, so I wanted assurance that the museum would have my back for something later.

The Name

The name including "biennale" was surely Clement's doing. It sounded ridiculous at first, since that only refers to boring art shows in Europe, but after a while, the egregious pompousness of the name stuck. A new Biennale was born.

The Artists

Here's who I picked to be in the show and why.

Eishi Takaoka whose works were in America, because of the Scion show had numerous pieces and an installation sculpture at arms length away, was an easy choice. We've worked with him for a few years.

Souther Salazar had a show at Giant Robot (GR2) and his six large paintings which were perfect. I shortened his GR2 show, just for the museum.

Saelee Oh is a hungry young artist who I know very well, I could count on her hustle and ability to take the show seriously. She did.

Masakatsu Sashie, whose work showed as a part of Geisai in America also at GR2, had great available works in my possession, he was easy to add. He chose to add many more works which had to be shipped from Japan.

Seonna Hong, who's extremely busy with her career in animation along with her young daughter and her upcoming Takashi Murakami exhibition in Tokyo was a slim chance, but she came through.

Pryor Praczukowski has had limited amounts of exhibitions, but has brilliant photos that almost no one has seen. The high ceilings and space will treat his works well, maybe for the first time.

Adrian Tomine, perhaps the hottest indie comics artist would be a great addition. Adding comics to the mix is very Giant Robot, and provides a great angle to expand the exhibition.

APAK, from Portland is sort of the wild card. They're young, relatively inexperienced, but their art exudes what I think is Asian Pop Culture.

Gary Baseman is an art fixture and is a large part of the new indie art movement in America. Him being part of the show ads great depth, maturity, and credibility.

Finally, David Choe, the cover artist of issue 50. The perfect choice, the one who's been with us from nearly the beginning, and the one who's always there for us. He's less into making paintings these days, but a 35-foot wall with 11-foot ceilings in a museum would be the perfect canvas to entice him to be part of the show. It did.

The Opening (Nov. 3, 2007)

Things couldn't have run better. I was excited, happy, and proud of the artists. I sent out e-mails days earlier that we'd do this in cocktail attire. The night before, I told Clement that we'd be wearing suits. He seemed to not believe me and said, "Are you serious?" more than once. The night of the opening, Clement came in wearing a suit and was part of the crew.

2700 people came through. A museum record. The gallery was packed and a line formed all night. Museum director Irene Hirano gave me a tremendous introduction that I can never live up to. I in turn made a short speech to introduce my staff and the artists, the true stars of the evening. Everyone was stunning, holding the flowers my mother prepared for them. The men looked good, the ladies, glamorous.

I saw faces who I haven't seen in years, some I met for the first time. The other thousands, I had no idea who they were, but was happy to see this many art fans come through. They even had turn away a bunch who hopefully made it back later.

The Future

In two years, it'll be Biennale time again. The museum is threatening to let me curate double the space, and I can picture more walls and rooms to give artists the usage of smaller rooms and 3D space for them to take their works to new heights. What will we be doing in two years? How will the museum change? Where will my artist friends be? Who'll be the new faces I'll want to curate? These are the questions to which I can't wait to find the answer. Thanks for reading.

© 2008 Eric Nakamura

art exhibition giant robot Japanese American National Museum