Falling Into the Canvas at the Mr. Brainwash Museumkawaiidaigakusei at Sept. 18, 2023, midnight
Photo: Life-Sized, Modern Sculpture Adaptation based on the Oil Painting “Yellow Hat Woman” by Edward Hopper. Created by Mr. Brainwash. Mr. Brainwash Museum. Beverly Hills, California. (August 2023)
Nestled in a non-descript corner where Santa Monica Boulevard and Beverly Boulevard intersect, steps away from Rodeo Drive in the city of Beverly Hills, resides a modern museum masterpiece known as the Mr Brainwash Museum.
I had a free hour or two, twenty dollars of disposable cash, and a growing curiosity about the mysterious building that had recently popped up in one of the most prominent neighborhoods in recent years, so I took a stroll. Ticket counters for purchasing tickets were replaced by a single poster of a QR Code at the entrance, which meant the lack of an electronic device or wireless Internet meant being locked out of the venue. I did the dance—purchased a ticket through my phone halfway down the block next to a rusty bike rack—and I was granted entry into a magical gateway where imagination met tangible reality.
The first walking path led me to the Dutch painter, Vincent van Gogh, room where a recreation of “Bedroom in Arles” was set up like a life-size diorama for the viewer to walk inside the painting and become part of the actual painting. The words “Follow Your Dreams” were newly painted on the left sidewall. A hallway of sunflowers surrounded the Arles room, and a painting of the famous “Starry Night” (with an additional “Hollywood” sign added to the shadowy hills) hung to the right. The word that popped into my head immediately was: “Goosebumps”.
A staircase of modern design spray-painted with inspirational quotations carried me up to the second floor where I walked into a room completely coated in chalk paint. I picked up a pink piece of chalk and wrote on the wall “kawaiidaigakusei was here and it was marvelous” overlapping the previous visitor’s words. I saw giant dinosaurs built completely out of books; baby grand pianos colorfully painted and technically playable; floating paintbrushes, hanging in midair over a sculpture of a black sheep. I felt like I was home, or at least a welcome guest in a very creative home.
There was a wall of Mona Lisa paintings, each one portraying a different personality, but transformed very subtly in the same way that Marcel Duchamp was able to do in his famous piece “L.H.O.O.Q.” where he altered the Mona Lisa by giving it a mustache and giving it a tongue and cheek title that provocatively read, “Elle a chaud au cul”. I studied the rows of miniature sculptures of Rodin’s Thinker displayed in see-through boxes containing various collections of obsolete technology. There were walls of original oil painting with subjects like the laughing dog from Duck Hunt, Ryu fighting Ken from Street Fighter with a painted bridge over lily pads inspired by French impressionist, Claude Monet. There was a giant oil painting of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks that replaced the main characters in the diner with Superman, Frida Kahlo, and Vincent van Gogh. Again, I felt home, and each hilarious take on a modern pop-culture reference captured in an oil painting, surrounded by a Rococo frame was met with delightful laughter from my perspective.
There was one room unlike the rest and it was a recreation of a Disco Dance Hall complete with long panels of mirrors, shiny lights, and a speaker system blasting all the funky hits from when Disco reigned King. I felt a sense that someone from that era could really experience a time warp when walking into that room.
I walked up a flight of stairs from antiquity, the room was surrounded by altered oil paintings to the third floor where the walls were wallpapered by a map of Los Angeles. The rooftop has a magnificent recreation of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, which brought me back to the Art Institute of Chicago, where I saw the original work for the first time. Continuing the Edward Hopper theme was a modern interactive sculpture based on a piece I had never seen before, an oil painting, “Yellow Hat Woman” of a young woman sitting inside a café (pictured above). The main character looked so reminiscent of the characters in Hopper’s “Chop Suey”, albeit she was sitting alone. In this modern version, the main character has an open laptop covered with familiar stickers from a blue ghost from PacMan, a bright pink cartoonish donut, and the Amoeba Records store logo. The viewer was able to physically step inside the “Yellow Hat Woman” painting and interact with the character in the same way as the Vincent van Gogh “Bedroom in Arles” located on the first floor. The simplicity of the coffee shop interior along with the main subject, a young modern woman working on a laptop alone, felt very relatable.
I walked downstairs to the lobby and sat on an authentic Eames Lounge Chair (which happened to be a secret bucket-list item on my to-do list, *Check) and I admired all the oil paintings hung up on the wall by the main entrance.
The exit was located through the gift shop, and I wanted a small memento to remember the experience of walking through such a dream scape, where creativity and the arts reigned supreme. I picked up postcards of two of my favorite works of art: two oil painted portraits inspired by the SNES Street Fighter of Ryu fighting Ken in front of famous painted landscapes and when I walked to the cashier to make my purchases, the conversation ensued:
Me: I would like to buy these two. (Hands two postcards, $3.00 each to the gift shop clerk)
Cashier: Your total is going to be $6.62.
Me: (Swipes Card)
Cashier: (Tucks the postcards into a brown paper bag with a hashtag of Brainwash stamped on the end)
-and then the cashier leaned in and whispered something to me-
Cashier: I do not know if you have any other time commitments, but I have just learned that Mr. Brainwash will be here, in the museum, within the hour, if you would like to meet him.
Me: Does anyone else know?
Cashier: You are the second person I have told. He used to visit the museum every Sunday, but now he visits on random days. When he gets here, there is usually a crowd of people around him and he signs things. I remember when I first met him, he gave me a hug.
Me: Well, I guess I will be hanging around here for another hour.
Cashier: Good luck!
I walked back to the main lobby and sat on the Mid-Century Modern, one-thousand, seven hundred dollar lounge chair designed by Charles and Ray Eames. Less than fifteen minutes had passed when I looked up and saw the familiar figure from the videos of the creative mind that goes by Mister Brainwash. Just as the cashier had mentioned, there was an entire crowd around him, some holding video cameras, others wanting to take photos with their cellphone.
I stood across from him, addressed him by one of the many titles written on a wall located on the second floor and pulled out the two postcards for M. Brainwash to sign (which he did kindly and respectfully). The conversation was mostly one-sided from my end, but the museum spoke for itself, and it had a lot to say.
If the Museum was a house, and I was a guest of that House, it certainly felt like meeting M. Brainwash for the first time at the end of the visit was paying respect to the host of the house.
(Definitely a worthwhile visit. A must.)
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