Visions in the new museum

When I was in art school, I walked through large museums dreaming that some day I could look over and see something I created hanging in the galleries. Some years later, I played a game helping my dream come true. With an envelope full of my tiny paintings in my purse, I took a walk through the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. As I exited down the huge monolithic stairs I smiled, imagining myself at a party, boasting in a snobbish accent, “Oh and yes, my work was in the Met.”

Well, I was not asked to show my work at the Met, but I was asked to show my work in the newly named Honolulu Museum of Art — a product of merging the Academy of Arts and The Contemporary Museum in Makiki Heights in O‘ahu.

I am included, as is my husband Hugh Russell, and many of my Kaua‘i friends, in the current exhibit “Hawai‘i Art Now,” on view until April 22. The prerequisite for this show may be what makes it so interesting. This show was only open to artists who had previously shown in “The Biennial of Hawai‘i Artists” show.

In the current Biennial are Bruna Stude’s (Galerie 103) ethereal and mysterious photographs alluding to dream states, past foggy memories and all the unclarity alive today — a must see when visiting O‘ahu.

The Biennial has been in existence for more than 20 years with at least three separate curators. Most shows are from a more defined perspective, usually from a panel or the taste of one individual. Yet with this show, the time span and difference in vision allows more freedom, freshness and diversity. I overheard an O‘ahu gallery owner comment, “This is by far the best exhibit this museum has had.”

Cast metal flattened frogs, spiraling phone books, a wall-size tapestry depicting a geisha and her vocational protection,a sculpture made in a beehive, exaggerated cartoon depictions of infamous locals — this exhibit can open your eyes while churning your mind. The conceptualism is graspable, inviting, sometimes humorous and definitely reflective of the diversity that is Hawai‘i.

Six drawings by Hugh Russell hang next to a fun Chris Reiner sculpture, one from his “Obtanium” series. Russell received a drawing award from Yale University, and these delicate, yet bold drawings depict why. Chris recycles found objects, manipulating and concocting somewhere between scientist, inventor and amuser.  

Near Russell’s work are black playing card-sized cartoons by favorite Sally French, an exciting and gutsy development for a talented artist.

You might know Sally from her large mural at the Princeville Shopping Center (the octopus holding the golden egg). Sally infuses contemporary culture (at least what she is experiencing in Kalaheo), wit and cartoon imagery, taking a big scoop of modern-day pie, to display its attraction and distraction concurrently. In “Hawai‘i Art Now,” her work is in almost every room, a gentle reminder. As her statement reads, “’99% Super Heroes’ are 99 portraits of Facebook friends as super heroes. This is an exciting time when in which all of us who are the 99 percent can be empowered to make a difference.” I love her positivism.

And let’s not forget the power of humor, especially as utilized in the questioning work of Wayne Zebzda. A reflector suit made from road sign material, a video of his son on the road in the same suit, casts of flattened frogs — surely this is the work of an artist fascinated by roads, or is it some obsessed Kauaian having a pinch at serious art snobbery?

At the opening reception I was greeted by artist Margaret Ezekiel in an outfit almost as sensual as her charcoal drawing, “Awakening,” behind her. We shared a sweet moment of gratitude as she placed a lei around my neck.

My piece hangs in a corner. I thought about how humans “get stuck in a corner.” Why not create art to help relieve the tendency? Months of planning the piece, and how can I determine it a success or not? What I do know is that I loved making it, I love the drawings and the layering of images, and the ideas I discovered while making it.

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