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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 3, 2002

Honolulu museums pull out all stops for visiting experts

By Virginia Wageman
Advertiser Art Critic

Honolulu museums are all spiffed up, awaiting the arrival of the directors of the nation's top art museums, who are meeting here Feb. 6-9 as guests of the Honolulu Academy of Arts and the Contemporary Museum.

 •  Pen, Pencil, and Brush

Honolulu Academy of Arts

Through March 17


 •  Translations

Art Gallery, University of Hawai'i-Manoa

Through Feb. 22


There is a lot to be proud of, from the spectacular public art downtown and in the Capitol District, financed and cared for by the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts, to the venerable Bishop Museum, one of the world's finest repositories for ethnological art.

The Contemporary Museum is displaying selections from its rarely exhibited collection, and the Honolulu Academy of Arts has mounted a show of exquisite drawings from its collection that are hardly ever on view owing to their fragile nature.

The academy also has just opened "Taisho Chic," a landmark exhibition of early 20th-century modernist art from Japan. Add to this the academy's newly renovated galleries for Asian art, and you get a museum that can hold its own in any crowd.

Drawings and watercolors

The show of drawings at the academy, "Pen, Pencil, and Brush: American Drawings and Watercolors, 1850-1950," includes a number of remarkable treasures. One is Winslow Homer's "Fisherwomen, Cullercoats," a luminous depiction of three sturdy peasant women on a British shore.

The academy's collection has been enriched by the recent gift from Kathryn and Arthur Murray of two lovely watercolors by Mary Cassatt. One of these, "Young Woman with Auburn Hair in a Pink Blouse" is included in the current exhibition. Here the influence of Degas is particularly evident in the woman's gentle gaze and in the vigorous, spontaneous strokes of pastel crayons.

Also demonstrating a command of French impressionism are Maurice Brazil Prendergast's two watercolors from an 1898-99 Italian sojourn. Evident here is a nod to the modernist techniques of flattening the picture plane and structuring the composition by means of juxtaposed vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines.

Twentieth-century trends are particularly well exemplified by John Marin's watercolors of fractured Maine seascapes, Yasuo Kuniyoshi's charcoal "Ballet Dancers" and Isamu Noguchi's "Seated Male Nude," also in charcoal. Both Kuniyoshi and Noguchi married a Japanese spareness with Western notions of abstracted realism.

The show is divided roughly into two sections, the first of early landscapes, the second of later figurative subjects.

Prints, photographs and ceramics

Students in the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa annually show their new work. This year's student show demonstrates, once again, that Hawai'i art students benefit from an unusually strong faculty and are not unaware of what's going on in art centers like New York and California.

There are a number of strong pieces, particularly in the area of printmaking, where Keiko Kamata, Peter Kenneth Foucault, Abigail Lee Kahilikia Romanchak and Heidi Lenz would seem to be people to watch.

Photography by Lena Lei Ching and Erin Williamson and a fiber piece by Madeleine Sšder stray from traditional formats in ways that enhance their interest.

Ceramics push the envelope, too — witness Cary Lathan's incredibly complicated "Vajrayana" and Keiko Ohnuma's "Padre Nostro."

Mark Welschmeyer's "Barcelona Sofa" draws on 20s-inspired whimsy to catch our attention (unfortunately mixing up decades with references to a 1960s Peter Sellers film, but funny nonetheless).

Derrick Arata's "Heaven and Hell" speaks well to the graduate student experience in its depiction of the various art studies that can be pursued at the university.

The art of seeing

After referring to Brendt Berger's "Lost Bearings" in my review of the "9-11" show at Koa Gallery (Sun., Jan. 27), I was embarrassed to hear from the artist that in his "postcard" view of Waikiki, he had altered the landscape to remove Diamond Head, his point being that living in Hawai'i, we tend to take the land for granted, as indeed I had.

I had spent a lot of time in front of that piece, trying to ascertain if buildings along the familiar Waikiki beachfront had been electronically removed or added. But they all seemed to be there, with no tricky additions, and I looked no further.

It just goes to show that we see what we want to see. As Picasso once said, "If only we could pull out our brain and use only our eyes."

Virginia Wageman can be reached at VWageman@aol.com.