When curator Max Presneill first planned the "Gateway Japan" exhibition, which opens Saturday at the Torrance Art Museum, his aim was to raise awareness of 14 contemporary Japanese artists and how their work resembles or differs from the seven Japanese Americans who are also in the show.
But as Japan copes with death and destruction from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, Presneill and his staff and volunteers at the city-run museum have transformed the art opening into an opportunity to raise money for disaster relief.
Putting out a "calling all artists" request for donated works, they've organized a sale in which each piece will go for a flat price of $50 (cash only), with proceeds going to the Japanese Red Cross.
Some of the items on sale from noon to 9 p.m. Saturday will be imports: Almost all of the Japan-based artists are attending the opening, and Presneill said the fundraiser will include small pieces they've brought with them to help with the effort. After Saturday, any unsold pieces will be available online.
After initial concerns, Presneill said, the museum learned that the artists and their families, along with his two Japanese co-curators, were safe, and that a shipping bottleneck in the disaster's aftermath would not affect the show. The last piece from Japan arrived Wednesday, and "Gateway Japan," which runs through April 30, will have its full complement of about 40 artworks.
Kio Griffith, a Japanese American artist who's not part of the show, has volunteered to coordinate the art sale, Presneill said, because the museum staff has had its hands full readying the exhibition. The show includes sculpture, painting, drawings, installation art and audio and video installations — and an unusual piece by Jocelyn Foye of Long Beach, the only non-Japanese artist in the show, that won't be created until Saturday evening.
Foye's oeuvre includes translating sporting events into artworks; her piece will be launched at the opening when two sumo wrestlers will grapple atop clay ovals. One of the athletes, Byamba Ulambayar, hails from Mongolia and has won three amateur world championships. Foye will cast the imprint from the fight as a "sculptural relief painting" made of rubber. The opening reception runs from 6 to 9 p.m., with the bout-cum-performance-piece scheduled for 8 p.m.
From 1998 to 2008, the London-raised Presneill, 48, ran the Raid Projects gallery in Santa Ana and Los Angeles. In 2009 he became curator of the Torrance Art Museum. His plans include using the overseas connections he has forged in a nearly 30-year career as an artist and curator to help the 4,000-square-foot museum "become a focal point for international work."
"Gateway Japan" is the first show in a series intended to highlight Southern California's standing as a nexus for international culture. "We have a large Japanese community in Torrance, so I thought I'd start with a Japanese show," Presneill said.
By including Japanese American as well as Japanese artists, he said, the exhibition invites viewers to think about the two groups' similarities and differences while raising "good questions about how much the international art world has become homogenized as a global phenomenon."