Wednesday, January 13, 2010

"Under the Influence: He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Art Extravaganza" Part I


ExperienceLA bloggers Julie and Charity attended a recent opening of the "Under the Influence: He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Art Extravaganza" (open now through January 29) exhibition at Gallery 1988 on Melrose last Friday evening. Part I is a recap of Julie's experience.

I heart He-Man. Judging by the flood of responses I got on my Facebook page when I posted my plans for last Friday night, I'm not alone. This was again evident later that evening when I arrived at Gallery 1988 for the opening reception of the He-Man art exhibition, and saw a veeeeeery long line of '80s babies just like me, filled with excitement as they waited to see a childhood hero re-imagined. Even the wacky Seth Green was spotted having a good time (pictured below: Seth Green and Gallery 1988 co-owner Jensen Karp).

100s of artists contributed interpretations of characters from the popular brand. He-Man was there, and Skeletor, She-Ra, Battle Cat...Well, not physically (although fans did come dressed in costume; oh MAN did I wish I could still fit into my She-Ra Halloween costume), but every character was represented in a variety of forms, from oil paintings, to photography, to toys, and more. All this, due in part to Gallery 1988 co-owner Jensen Karp. The gallery, in partnership with Mattel, previously collaborated on a similar exhibition for the Hot Wheels toys. It was such a success, Karp was asked if he would do it again. There was one brand on which his heart was set: He-Man.

The artists, a collection of 1988 regulars and Mattel designers, examined various aspects of human nature and vulnerability through the characters: sadness, silliness, playfulness, childlike, violent, sexual...

"It was an open canvas," was the response from Scott Neitlich, Associate Brand Manager at Mattel (who also runs, when I asked him how much control Mattel had over the artists' creations. It was a surprising response, but a bold decision by a large corporation to give artists free reign to do what they will with such a revered brand. Looking at the artwork, and hearing the responses from those in attendance, it was the right decision. While some were silly, unexpected, and perhaps a little crass, it really was a respectful tribute to the He-Man brand.

Coincidentally, a friend and former colleague of my husband's was also there. He happens to be a designer for the He-Man toys, and had an opportunity to contribute an acrylic painting to the exhibition (pictured below, right: painting by Bill Benecke, toy designer at Mattel). He mentioned that it had been several years since he'd touched brush to canvas. Who knew He-Man (or in his case, Skeletor) had such powers as to inspire an artist to paint again?

It was incredible to speak with some of the artists and learn how their creations came about, and what the process was like. Some planned and worked for weeks, while a few were hit with inspiration in the 11th hour. Walking through the exhibition, you wouldn't necessarily know the difference.

The artworks are available for purchase and fifteen percent of the gallery's profits will go to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. I, and I'm sure the many who braved the hot and crowded gallery that night, and those who follow, thank you, Mattel, Gallery 1988, Scott, Jensen, and all the artists for this night of nostalgia and reconnecting with our inner child.


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