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Kelly Akashi Formations & Eleanor Antin + My Barbarian
Old anatomical illustrations of the human torso’s interior are overlaid with clear glass shells

From September 21, 2023 through February 18, 2024, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego will present the first major touring museum exhibition of Los Angeles-based artist Kelly Akashi (born 1983, Los Angeles), organized by the San José Museum of Art.

From September 21, 2023 through February 18, 2024, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego will present the first major touring museum exhibition of Los Angeles-based artist Kelly Akashi (born 1983, Los Angeles), organized by the San José Museum of Art. Kelly Akashi: Formations presents an overview of a decade of work, including glass and cast bronze objects, multipart sculptural installations, and photographic work. It also includes a newly commissioned body of work that explores the inherited impact of the artist’s father’s imprisonment in a Japanese American incarceration camp in Poston, Arizona during World War II.

“We have watched Kelly Akashi’s practice evolve for many years and we are honored to host her first major museum exhibition at MCASD,” MCASD The David C. Copley Director and CEO Kathryn Kanjo said. “Leading with familiar points of entry–stunning glass sculptures of flowers and other elements of the natural world–we believe that Akashi’s layered work will spark important conversations about our region’s landscape and history.”

Originally trained in analog photography, Akashi is drawn to fluid, impressionable materials and old-world craft techniques, such as glass blowing and casting, candle making, bronze and silicone casting, and rope making. She often pairs hand-blown glass or wax forms with unique and temporally specific bronze casts of her own hand, each a unique record of the slow-changing human body.

“Being a craftsperson means that you are a part of a bigger tradition,” Akashi said. “There is a massive community that has passed down knowledge through generations. Through these oral histories, we can feel both time and the people who cared to cultivate the crafts and passed them forward.”

Akashi’s interest in time—embedded in the materiality of many of her processes—has led her to study fossils, geology, and botany, locating humankind within a longer geological timeline. Drawing on scientific research and theoretical inquiry, she explores fundamental questions of existence—about being in the world and being in time—cultivating relationships among a variety of materials and subjects to investigate how they actively convey their histories and potential for change.

“Akashi uses a familiar language of craft—of skilled experience and material knowledge—in a way that draws from tradition, but reveals internal encounters, juxtapositions, and relationships that push towards transformation. In one sense, you could say she’s encouraging a material empathy—looking at stones as witnesses to human trauma—while she’s also looking to interactions with materials, to geologic records, to make sense of her own history, as a human, and as a Japanese American,” said Lauren Schell Dickens, chief curator, San José Museum of Art.

The newly commissioned Conjoined Tumbleweeds (2022) is a monumental bronze cast of intertwined plants collected from Poston, Arizona—the former site of an incarceration camp for Japanese Americans where the artist’s paternal family, along with thousands of others, were relocated and imprisoned during World War II. It is presented with a variety of sculptures from throughout Akashi’s career on rammed earth pedestals, such as Be Me (Californian—Japanese Citrus) (2016), a stainless-steel cast of the cultivated fruit whose hybrid identity reflects the artist’s own heritage. The title “Be Me” is given to an ongoing group of works: an empathetic entreaty to dissolve boundaries between object and viewer, self and other. Particular subjects, weeds, flowers, shells, as well as traditional craft forms—footed vase, candle cup—reoccur, each encompassing particular morphologies and lineages in botany, paleontology, and histories of craft.

“We hope the exhibition will foster consciousness and public discourse about histories that have deep local relevance yet are too little discussed, particularly in a time of resurgent anti-Asian violence,” said Jill Dawsey, senior curator at MCASD. “Akashi’s exquisite work–including recent photographs and sculptures made following her visit to the former incarceration camp at Poston, Arizona–extends to questions surrounding the politics of land rights and stewardship.”

Dawsey added, “We are thrilled that Kelly Akashi: Formations affords us the opportunity to partner with the Pacific Arts Movement and the San Diego Asian Film Festival on special film programs in conjunction with the show that will expand these conversations.”

Akashi’s interest in thinking about cultivation, botanical time, and their relationship to self could first be seen in Hairy Weed (2016). The artist has an ongoing series of weed sculptures from the weeds in her backyard, drawn from life with meticulous tracings and entombed through lost-wax bronze casting. The exhibition will also include several large multifaceted sculptures—called “Complexes”—which incorporate their own systems of display. Evocative of scientific specimen tables, cabinets of curiosities, and domestic display furniture, these complex and detailed arrangements reveal the tenuous frailty of systems of classification and order.

A slightly green cast of a hand with an emerald ring on its pinky. All resting atop a rock.

Kelly Akashi: Formations is organized by the San José Museum of Art and curated by Lauren Schell Dickens, Chief Curator. The presentation at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego is organized by Jill Dawsey, PhD, Senior Curator, MCASD.

At MCASD, Kelly Akashi: Formations is generously funded by the Teiger Foundation. Individual support for the exhibition is provided by Barbara Arledge, Jennifer Levitt, Garna Muller, and Nora and Fritz Sargent. Major support of the exhibition at the San José Museum of Art was provided by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and Fellows of Contemporary Art.

Operations and programs at MCASD are made possible by the generous contributions of the Museum's Board of Trustees, MCASD Giving Circles and Members, the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture through the Organizational Support Program, the E.A. Michelson Foundation, the G.A. Foster Legacy Foundation, The Getty Foundation.

Still from video showing three people (two of them with their fists up)

My Barbarian, Universal Declaration of Infantile Anxiety Situations Reflected in the Creative Impulse, 2013

ALSO ON VIEW: Eleanor Antin and My Barbarian

Fifty years ago, celebrated San-Diego-based artist Eleanor Antin staged and photographed 100 Boots on their cross-country trip from Solana Beach to New York City. A foundational series for Antin, the epic visual narrative took more than two years to complete. Included in MCASD's exhibition are the 51 postcards that document the boots’ journey as well as pieces featuring Antin's alter ego, the King of Solana Beach. Also on view is work by the collective My Barbarian (Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon, and Alexandro Segade), whose layered performances continue Antin’s spirit of social critique and playfulness. Their theatrical work often references the legacies of California’s countercultural era , drawing on a multitude of sources to establish the richness of matrilineal creative inheritance. Two of the collective’s members, Malik Gaines and Alexandro Segade, are faculty in the University of California, San Diego’s Department of Visual Arts.


Kelly Akashi: Formations at MCASD is made possible by a generous grant from the Teiger Foundation, supporting the Museum’s collaboration with the Pacific Arts Movement and the annual San Diego Asian Film Festival on public programs to accompany the exhibition.

"Pacific Arts Movement is committed to truthful and respectful representation of Asian American and Pacific Islander stories through various forms of art,” said Alex Villafuerte, executive director of Pacific Arts Movement. “In partnering with the Kelly Akashi: Formations exhibition, we're excited to engage the San Diego community in meaningful discussions and reflections."


The exhibition catalog for Kelly Akashi: Formations—the first scholarly monograph on the artist—features essays by Lauren Schell Dickens, Ruba Katrib, Dr. Jenni Sorkin; and a conversation between Akashi and painter Julien Nguyen. The book also includes a special photography project by Akashi, created specifically for this publication.


Born in 1983, Kelly Akashi holds an MFA from the University of Southern California (2014) and a BFA from Otis College of Art and Design (2006); she also studied at the Staatliche Hochschule für Bildende Künste—Städelschule in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. The artist’s work was featured in the 2016 edition of the Hammer Museum’s biennial, Made in L.A. Other notable group exhibitions include TITLE, Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit (2017); LA: A Fiction, Musée d’art contemporain de Lyon, France (2017); Take Me (I’m Yours), curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist, Jens Hoffmann, and Kelly Taxter, Jewish Museum, New York (2016); and Can’t Reach Me There, Midway Contemporary Art, Minneapolis (2015). Winner of the 2019 Carolyn Glasoe Bailey Foundation Art Prize, the artist will have a residency and solo exhibition at the foundation in Ojai, California. Other residencies include ARCH Athens (2019) and Headlands Center for the Arts, Sausalito, California (2019). Akashi’s solo exhibition Long Exposure was curated by Ruba Katrib at the SculptureCenter, New York (2017), and her first solo New York gallery exhibition was held at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in February 2020. Kelly Akashi’s work can be found in the permanent collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; the San José Museum of Art, San José; CC Foundation, Shanghai; M WOODS, Beijing; The Perimeter, London; David Roberts Art Foundation, London; and Sifang Museum, Nanjing, China, among others.


The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) is the region’s foremost forum devoted to the exploration and presentation of the art of today. Open since 1941, we welcome all audiences to reflect on their lives, communities, and the ever-changing world through the powerful prism of contemporary art. Between two MCASD locations — one in the heart of downtown San Diego and the other in the coastal community of La Jolla — we showcase an internationally-recognized collection. MCASD’s dynamic exhibition schedule features a vast array of media in an unprecedented variety of spaces, along with a growing dedication to community experiences and public programs. As a cultural hub, MCASD seeks to catalyze conversation in our region.


TR/PR | ​​Toni Robin


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