October 27, 2007

In Conversation with Karin Higa at the Japanese American National Museum

This week we had the opportunity to speak with Karin Higa, curator at the Japanese American National Museum. Karin has stepped down as director and into the position of curator, as she is currently enrolled in the Ph.D. program in Art History at USC. Her art historical approach to curation (as opposed to curator-stars, independent curators, artist/curators, and curatorial majors) seemed quite different than the conversations we've had in weeks past.

She was quite proud of the fact that one of her professors uses an article she wrote to bring 20th Century Japanese-American artists in the the traditional art history cannon. She also mentioned some upcoming shows she is curating, including a show of contemporary Asian-American artists called "One Way or Another," (that will include the faux-appliance maker Kaz Oshiro) and show that pairs Ikebana with contemporary artists.

The conversation was far-ranging, from Jessica Bronson's comment about how we live in a lateral culture without a lot of depth. In this respect Karin's art-historical-based practice was much more penetrating and contextualized than some of the work of past curators we've talked to. Karen made the comment that art cannot be separated from context and vice versa, which seemed to be at odds with her upcoming show that will pair a German artist like Isa Genzken and Japanese flower arrangements.

And again (as with most curators) I wind up feeling troubled by the power relationships between these people and the artists that they curate. On one hand they speak about the good work they do when they insert unrecognized artists into the art cannon: the curator as a sort of historical repairman. On the other hand, the relationship is a lot more complicated. As an example, she spoke of the work of Hideo Date. When she first contacted him, he said he didn't talk to curators and hung up on her. Her attitude was fairly cavalier; there were plenty of other unrecognized artists she could contact. Later, she talked about how her curatorial practice helped artist get their work into the collections of LACMA and the Autry, and how she was able to get these artists to donate large amounts of their work to JANM. It seems that she has these artists over a barrel: if the want to be included in the art cannon, they need to play by the terms set by the JANM.

Lastly (or more tangentially) I wanted to get back to Jessica's comment about the flattening of culture. With things like blogs, YouTube, digg, etc. there becomes a sort of equivalence of information. Culturally based institutions like JANM work against that, attempting to tease out and preserve difference. I'm actually more interested in that process of how difference disappears. When does the Battle of Iwo Jima become like the Battle of Hastings?

Sphere: Related Content

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for continuing the conversation by leaving a comment! If you post anonymously with a question, check back here in the comments section, as I'll usually reply in the comments section. Comments on posts older than two weeks are welcome, but are moderated, so they may take a while to appear. Irrelevant linking will be deleted.