I love Hello Kitty. Always have, always will. I have a plush pillow with Kitty wearing overalls and carrying a teddy bear on a string AND I have a very special Hello Kitty bride that was only available at the Hong Kong McDonald’s. I love that Kitty.
So all that is to say, I really love Hello Kitty even though I’m way too old for it. And she’s kind of creepy. It’s the eyes. They’re dead. So when I saw there was a special birthday celebration I knew I had to go. There was an airplane hangar full of Sanrio magic and I had to see it. Sadly, I was a little disappointed.
The content of the exhibit isn’t the problem. Artists submitted work inspired by Sanrio characters and it’s set off against a carnival background. All in keeping with the spirit of the Sanrio brand. And while the art exhibit has a sense of fun and irreverence, and a carnival just screams “fun” the location is drab and the organizers didn’t put forth much effort into brightening it up. Even something as simple as putting up a brighter wallpaper might have improved the general ambience and made it feel more like a celebration. As it was, the overall look of the event reminded me of all those carnivals held by Our Holy Redeemer school. Sure there’s a low-rent charm but Sanrio is about glitter and sparkle and creepy animated characters on fluffy clouds.
The $10 parking fee also diminished some of the enjoyment. There was plenty of self-parking available so I don’t understand why they went with such a steep cost. Parking fees create an expectation and this isn’t the Getty. $3-$5 was all they should have charged during the week, if they had to charge at all. But then, it wouldn’t be Los Angeles if the parking didn’t cost more than the event, which was free.
Broken into its separate halves, though, neither disappointed. If you are there with children, they can pose in Hello Kitty Smart Cars, enjoy rides, eat snacks and play games. And if you want to look at the paintings and installations, the setup both honors the childlike elements of a Sanrio-inspired exhibit, while still retaining an element of thoughtfulness. Clearly, these characters were meaningful to the artists and that meaning did come across in the work. It may not be great art, but it wasn’t kitsch, either.
Of course, I’m not counting out my own nostalgia for why I enjoyed the exhibit because one of the pieces was made of jellybeans. I mean, I love jellybeans but they don’t exactly make you think “meaningful work of art.” Neither does the word Yummychum. But several pieces did strike a chord in me. It was a wistfulness for remembering when Hello Kitty wasn’t nostalgic and how magical a special little doll or even a pencil holder could be.