“Are you here for Hello Kitty?”
I wondered if the man at the security desk asked that question of all the thirty-something women who arrive at the Japanese American National Museum. But let’s face it, I absolutely was. "Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty" is the pop art, pop culture-driven retrospective happening at the downtown Los Angeles museum from now until April 26, 2015. You're advised to purchase timed tickets in advance ($20 adults, $10 kids age 6-17, 5 and under free) for access to the show.
As I watched a mother and her young daughter stroll through the exhibit together with glee, I realized what a wonderful cross-generational icon Hello Kitty is after her 40 years on earth. For me, the exhibit was suffused with unadulterated joy. I could revisit cute vintage items such as Hello Kitty hairdryers and rotary phones from the 1970s, discover unusual Hello Kitty branded items like duct tape, and spot more contemporary that I actually own (my chopstick holders are actually in a museum). As one exhibit case noted, there are Hello Kitty objects to take you from birth until death. Thankfully there were no Hello Kitty caskets on display -- though they do exist.
Part of the retrospective includes modern artists creating new works using Hello Kitty as muse, Paul Frank among them. And there are free audio recordings accessible by cell phone of the artists discussing their work.
As much as the Hello Kitty exhibit is the big draw, it's worth spending more contemplative time in the emotional collection at the museum on the Japanese-American internment. This well-curated museum is worth a visit even when Hello Kitty is not in town.
Japanese American National Museum is located at 100 North Central Avenue, Los Angeles, CA.