The Museum of Neon Art (MONA)||
The Museum of Neon Art (MONA) is located in Grant Hope Park in downtown Los Angeles.
MONA is the world's only art gallery featuring a permanent display of neon art. It is a non-profit educational institution which holds and displays a collection of sign boards and art works using neon as their medium. Works by more than 400 artists are on show at the museum. The staff at MONA are also involved in the planning of exhibitions held in art galleries and institutions throughout the United States and Japan.
MONA was established by 1981 by two neon artists, Lily Lakich and Richard Jenkins, in Little Tokyo, and later moved to a site next to Universal Studios.
In response to our request for an interview, we were met by the artist Jan Sanchez and MONA's Sophia Mannick, who has lived for some time in Japan. The conversation was held in English with an occasional mixture of Japanese and with interpretation provided by Mr. Itano, deputy chairman of the All Japan Neon Sign Association.
Q: Neon signs and neon art in Los Angeles are endlessly fascinating. Do you think that neon somehow fits the American character?
A: Americans like the fantastic neon signs that you see in Los Angeles but they also greatly enjoy neon art. There are people with old-fashioned ideas who react against new technology, but young people in particular get on well with neon art. Lily Lakich, one of MONA's founders, is currently a well-known neon artist, and her fateful encounter with neon signs came when she was traveling from California to New York during her youth. The experience made her fall in love with neon.
Neon art was presented for the first time in New York in 1958 and 1959, marking the beginning of the neon art movement.
Q: You hold special workshops for children. How do children react?
A: We've been holding creative workshops ever since MONA was established. Classes of between 15 and 20 people are held three or four times a year and are attended every year by about 700 people. The participants watch videos on how neon signs are produced and they create their own three-dimensional designs using paper and other mediums. In ten years or so, we'll see the emergence of real neon artists.
The classes held for adults are introductory courses which explain neon design techniques in simple terms. The neon art which they design is completed by experts who bend the tubes. Neon art courses are currently available at many universities and are provoking a great deal of interest.
Q: How many neon artists are there active at the present time?
Q: How is MONA run?
A: MONA is supported by its system of membership, donations, and sales in the museum shop. More than a thousand members bring along visitors from both inside and outside the United States. The site of the museum is being lent to us free by the Los Angeles city authorities for five years. The upper part of this building consists of apartments, the idea being to prevent any further outflow of population from the downtown area. We are also contributing to the creation of a safe and attractive city as redevelopment proceeds. The downtown area could hardly have been described as attractive five years ago, and it wasn't safe either.
There are around fifty examples of neon art and signatures along Universal City Walk, which is one of Los Angeles's major tourist attractions. Carefully restoring the older items is a responsibility of MONA and the Universal City Walk authorities.
Neon signs are used effectively all over Los Angeles. The smaller neon signs are particularly attractive and cute.
Along with the new neon signs, the types using old light bulbs can be seen in perfect form along Universal City Walk. The light they emit is astonishingly beautiful and they feature sophisticated designs. The famous Mona Lisa neon remains on the site where Lily Lakich once had her studio. The arcade thronging with tourists enjoying shopping offers a perfect blend of neon signs and art and is in itself a kind of neon museum. These two locations fully convey the power and the potential of neon.
1998 Copyright (c) All Japan Neon-Sign Association