Academy of Arts to feature Hawaiian artists
By Virginia Wageman
Advertiser Art Critic
With the opening of the new Luce Pavilion today, the Honolulu Academy of Arts redresses 74 years of neglecting the art of Hawai'i's indigenous inhabitants. Although individual ethnic Hawaiian artists have had solo shows at the academy, and although Hawaiians have been included in group exhibitions, particularly the annual Artists of Hawai'i show, there has never been a large-scale group show devoted solely to art made by people of Hawaiian ancestry.
Na Maka Hou: New Visions
The Luce Pavilion, an architecturally stunning complex that adds two 4,000-square-foot galleries to the museum's existing 30 galleries, includes, on its second level, the John Dominis and Patches Damon Holt Gallery, the first space ever in the museum given over to its Hawai'i regional collection, which until now has been exhibited wherever space could be found for it.
The first-floor Henry R. Luce Gallery is intended for changing exhibitions, particularly those traveling to Hawai'i from other locales.
However, the opening exhibition has been organized by the academy and, in an inspired choice, is devoted to contemporary art by artists of Native Hawaiian descent.
Titled "Na Maka Hou: New Visions," the exhibition was curated by a selection committee comprised of members of the Native Hawaiian community under the supervision of the academy's associate director, David de la Torre. A call for submissions was issued last fall.
Fifty-nine artists were selected for the show, and there are about 125 artworks, including paintings, drawings, photographs, sculpture, woodworking, ceramics, kapa, featherwork and installations.
Included are works by two elder statesmen who were instrumental in the Hawaiian renaissance that emerged in the 1970s. Herb Kane is represented by a painting of the Battle of Nu'uanu, which reflects the artist's meticulous attention to historic detail.
Wright Bowman Sr.'s wooden model of the two-hulled sailing canoe Hawai'i Loa is based on intensive research and experimentation to replicate an ancient voyaging canoe.
Several of the artists, including kapa makers Pua Van Dorpe and Moana Eisele and feather worker Paulette Kahalepuna, have made it their lifelong passion to uncover artmaking practices of their ancestors and to pass these traditions on to younger artists.
Such devoted practitioners have increased immeasurably our knowledge of Native Hawaiian culture.
Other artists, such as Elroy Juan, who grows and dyes gourds, and fiber artists Pam Barton, Marques Marzan and Duncan Seto choose to use materials and techniques of their ancestors, which they adapt to their contemporary visions. Likewise, the elegant clay vessels of Kauka de Silva are fired with glazes made from Maunawili and Kaimuki clays as well as lehua ash.
In related works, many of the artists interpret traditional themes and motifs derived from Hawaiian culture, often adapting these themes to contemporary presentations. Sean Browne's spare and eloquent sculptures are based on ancient symbols, as are the evocative paintings of Meleanna Meyer.
Both Gussie Rankin Bento and Doris Nosaka incorporate designs inspired by royal symbols in beautiful handmade quilts. Three wonderful ceramic sculptures by Craig Neff take their form from kapa beaters.
Conceptual installations include a powerful statement on the 'aina, or land, by Kau'i Chun, which he recently submitted for his master of fine art's thesis exhibition.
Immense panels, which the visitor can walk around and under, are painted with materials derived from the earth.
Kaili Chun's beautifully crafted installation of nine koa framed boxes, each holding a lei, refers to each of the nine major Hawaiian islands, including the emerging island of Lo'ihi, There are references to Christianity or today's Hawai'i as well, implied by the cruciform arrangement of the boxes.
Bernice Akamine also addresses the issue of the land in her installation of eight structures made of concrete, acrylic and glass, each representing a Hawaiian island significantly painted red, white and blue.
Many of the works are simply fine examples of artmaking. Charming lyrical abstractions related to Hawai'i's glorious landscape are painted by Harry Fonseca, a Hawaiian living in Santa Fe; and Mapuana, who lives on O'ahu, creates sensuous, color-filled landscapes.
There are several engaging works by nonprofessional artists, including David Kaaihue's naive-style paintings recording his Maui childhood and Marie McDonald's expressive depictions of hula dancers.
The organizers of the exhibition are to be commended for the broad range of art selected and for including several unknowns who are either new to artmaking or who have practiced quietly on their own. An excellent full-color catalog, which includes bios of each of the artists, is available at the museum for $24.95.
The academy offers free admission today and next weekend, when there will be a grand ho'ike, with Hawaiian music, arts and crafts demonstrations and keiki activities.
Virginia Wageman can be reached at VWageman@aol.com.