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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, November 5, 2006

What Island style?

By Timothy Dyke
Special to The Advertiser

Fred Roster’s “Pools in a River,” 2006, features wood, photocopies, paint and lights and measures 4 feet square.

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The Contemporary Museum at First Hawaiian Center

999 Bishop St.

8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. MondaysThursdays; 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Fridays; through Jan. 30


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What was organizing a show of 116 artists like?

"At first ... I had carefully found a space for each piece," says curator Allison Wong. "Then the artists kept increasing. The deadline had passed but an artist would call me and ask if he/she could send in images — how could I say no? When all of the work was delivered and wrapping and pedestals were everywhere, I freaked out. I thought there was going to be too much work, and I would have to hang things from the ceiling. I left the gallery that Friday and on Monday, a banking holiday, I came in at 8 a.m. and plugged through and the majority of the layout was done. I needed a fresh look, and the only parallel I really can think of is 'herding cats.' "

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Mark Mitsuda's "Blue and Orange Whiskey Jugs," 2006, are made of blown glass. The works of both artists are featured in The Contemporary Museum's 10th anniversary show.

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David Kuraoka's pit-fired tiles meld sculpture and painting in "Echo."

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When art is organized around an artist or an idea, viewers can see work displayed in museums and galleries as individual objects while experiencing the show as a unified exhibition that advances, exemplifies or adheres to a series of organizing principles.

In a show like "The Contemporary Museum at First Hawaiian Center: Tenth Anniversary Exhibition," objects by 116 Hawai'i artists are shown without a focus on specific sets of techniques, identities or processes. No one is overtly trying to sell us anything, and no singular message comes through. There is little obvious cohesion among the drawings, sculptures, photographs and paintings. Viewers will find plenty to look at, but they won't necessarily come up with any compelling reason to link what they see to a single consolidating notion.

And this is not a bad thing. By choosing a wide variety of well-conceived new work by all the artists who have previously shown in the gallery, curator Allison Wong reconfirms what Honolulu art gazers already know: Hawai'i's artists cannot be lumped together under one aesthetic or point of view. The anniversary show will appeal to those whose appetites range wide. As this gallery shares space with a busy, functioning bank, it makes sense for viewers to deliberately embrace the disjunction of it all.

Still, the human brain makes connections, and one of the fun things about visiting the show is to discover what kinds of patterns emerge. Just as two different kids can look up at the sky and see drastically different forms in the clouds, two viewers at First Hawaiian Center can have vastly different experiences.

The best work on display invites the kind of concentrated contemplation that readers bring to poetry — and the process of writing is actually a decent analogy for what some of the exhibited artists reveal in their work. Authors and editors know that if a line of writing has to be edited, it must go, and the writer should not cling to it to preserve its creation. Just because the writer doesn't include the line in the final draft, however, doesn't mean that the line disappears. Artistic process compresses one rendering into the next. If artists are good at what they do, their work will be layered with a kind of creative archeology. There will be a sense that what a viewer sees has grown out of what he or she can see no longer.

The most striking images in the show, then, are the ones that at first appear to be the most simple. In "Nijiriguchi No. 998" by Akira Iha, a field of red acrylic is separated into four quadrilaterals by yellow lines of varying length. Like Barnett Newman or Piet Mondrian, Iha uses geometry and line to free his canvas from the limits of depiction. He isn't using color and shape to paint a picture of something. Rather, he uses the essential elements of painting to suggest all that painting can be. We don't look at "Nijiriguchi." We look into it. Iha merges the technical and the metaphorical. Consider what Agnes Martin once said when asked what one of her minimalist, abstract paintings "meant." She replied by questioning the notion that art is supposed to mean something. "The ocean doesn't mean anything," she reportedly said. "The ocean just is." Iha's red squares and yellow lines also "just are." To see his expert use of essential technical elements is to think of the nature of nature.

"Echo" by David Kuraoka uses pit-fired ceramics to a similar effect. Four rectangular plates of stoneware are hung two by two. The potter turns clay into canvas, melding the arts of sculpture and painting. In the center of each rectangle is a distinct composition, using square, line and color. Kuraoka's panels read like an invented vocabulary; he has not created images as much as he's insinuated language. To look at "Echo" is to hear music created not out of sound but from shape, color, texture and clay.

Fred Roster's "Pools in a River" takes the merging of art, geometry and language even further. He places paper under small panels of light. The lined writing surfaces run underneath squares of wood, creating a geometric grid. The composition of the grid contrasts with the compositions on each paper. Scrawled images blend with ordered forms. Viewers lean into his illuminated wall sculpture to read the composition, yet meaning is elusive, constantly shifting and changing form, not unlike water as it pools in a river.

In "Jugs," Mark Mitsuda creates ethereal domes from blown glass. The standouts in this 10th anniversary show, like the museum at First Hawaiian Center, presents images less for the purpose of showing what something looks like and more to demonstrate how art can transform.

What Island style?

Mark Mitsuda: Blue and Orange Whiskey Jugs, 2006, glass, 11 1/2-13 1/2 x 10 inches.

ABOVE: Fred Roster's "Pools in a River," 2006, features wood, photocopies, paint and lights and measures 4 feet square. BELOW: Mark Mitsuda's "Blue and Orange Whiskey Jugs," 2006, are made of blown glass. The works of both artists are featured in The Contemporary Museum's 10th anniversary show.


Kandi Everett: Lilly Lucifer from the blot com alien anime series, 2005 monoprint and color pencil on paper.

Akira Iha: Nijiriguchi #998, 1998, acrylic on paper, 48 x 48 inches. This image first appears simple but is full of depth.

David Kuraoka's pit-fired tiles meld sculpture and painting in "Echo."