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A Visit to Giant Robot 2

Giant Robot takes a low key, low-tech approach to presenting art at its Sawtelle Blvd. store. / Erik Nakamura

Giant Robot is a lifestyle – not just a magazine. It’s a celebration of Asian American popular culture in all its forms. So it makes sense that Giant Robot can claim the nurturing and promotion of artists as one of its main objectives. Last year, I saw the results at the Japanese American National Museum in an exhibit titled, “Giant Robot Biennale 2: 15 Years.”

Last week, I saw a different slice of the Giant Robot ouevre at GR2, the Giant Robot store on Sawtelle Blvd. in West LA. The magazine also has retail outlets in New York and San Francisco, and until recently, two other shops in L.A. (The Silverlake location recently shuttered.)GR2 is tiny and unassuming. A visitor to Sawtelle – the “Little Osaka” of L.A.- might pass by it without a second glance. Even inside, the art and items for sale aren’t displayed with much pomp. The clerk doesn’t say “hi” when I enter, and a moment later when she says “hey,” I realize she’s talking on the phone and not to me. “What’s the homework for feminist theory class?” she asks, then proceeds to set up a homework study date. It made me feel safely ignored – that I could look at the artworks and browse the shop without feeling a salesperson’s eyes on my back.

I found that “Water Works” was on display – an exhibition co-hosted by UNICEF. Initially, UNICEF planned for a precentage of proceeds from art sales to go to improving water supply in Vietnam. Then, March 11, an earthquake rattled Japan and a tsunami devasted a chunk of its coast. Giant Robot decided to adjust the focus of the UNICEF aid to support Japan.

Some works were astonishingly precient, such as “Uprisings” by Kozyndan. It was a replica of the classic Japanese tsunami woodblock print – except white rabbits cascaded over the waves, not foam. If only Japan could be strewn with white rabbits now, and not wreckage and debris.

Another piece that caught my eye was a pair of teardrop shaped ceramic pieces, adorned with blue flowers so that they looked like fine China. Each piece was sculpted with facial features – eyes, nose, lips – that looked melancholy, or at the least, reserved. The creations by Yoskay Yamamoto are called “Yotsuyu” (night dew) and “Asatsuyu” (morning dew).

Some pieces riffed off of traditional images. A golden Noah’s ark on an icy blue sea is the focus of “Spring” by Jay Ryan and Aaron Horkey. Yet the dragon figure perched atop the boat creates a distinctly Asian touch. In fact, upon closer examination, nothing is at is seems. Is that a boat or a house? A ram or a monster?

Throughout the small exhibit, which I judged to be about 50 works (see photos here), I found that my sense of aesthetics agreed with what I saw. And I appreciated the gallery’s low-tech, low-key emphasis. It let the art speak for itself without being overly presented or under appreciated.

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