Meidor Hu's "Snowstorm," a digital print, is among the works on exhibit in "The Contemporary Museum Biennial of Hawaii Artists (VIII)."
Rising to the occasion
The Honolulu Academy of Arts move earlier this year to transform its annual "Artists of Hawaii" showcase into a more rigorous biennial exhibition met with some grumbling in the arts community and questions along the lines of:
THE CONTEMPORARY MUSEUM BIENNIAL OF HAWAII ARTISTS (VIII)
» Time: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 17
» Admission: $5 adults, $3 seniors and students, free for 12 and younger; free the third Thursday each month
» Call: 526-1322; online tcmhi.org
» With the loss of such a major venue, how is a beginning artist to be seen, critiqued and pushed toward the next level?
» How many Hawaii artists are ready to meet biennial criteria?
» Would we be subject to seeing the same individuals honored over and over?
If The Contemporary Museum Biennial of Hawaii Artists (VIII) is any indication of what to expect, Hawaii artists are capable of rising to the occasion when presented with an opportunity.
Artists invited to participate in this year's showcase are Eli Baxter, Vincent Goudreau and Javier Martinez, Yida Wang, Wayne Zebzda, Meidor Hu and Cade Roster, who worked with TCM's Curator of Exhibitions, Inger Tully, in creating site-specific work demonstrating the range of contemporary expression in Hawaii.
Such an exhibition also makes demands on the museum staff to keep up with an ever-expanding roster of rising stars, as well as keeping up with work being done by artists on the neighbor islands.
In terms of balance, Goudreau and Martinez are based on Maui, Zebzda works on Kauai, Hu works on the Big Island, with the remaining artists based on Oahu. Tully said it was the work itself, rather than any democratic aim, that informed her selections. Even so, I felt that a coupe of the neighbor island contributions were the weakest in the show.
A video still from "sub paradise" by Vincent Goudreau and Javier Martinez.
The greatest demand was placed on Wang, whose work occupies prime position in the front of the gallery. Primarily known for drawing and painting, Wang's works reflect her migration from Shanghai of the Cultural Revolution to the west with all that might bring: alienation, change, wonder as affected by culture, politics, family and distances, whether physical or over time. Her meditation on differences in preferred communication of older and younger generations is a mixed media installation comprising mah jongg tile images on paper. A closer look reveals symbols of cell-phone texting interspersed among the Chinese characters, numerals, flora and fauna, made clear with strips of magnifying material as shiny and glossy as any digital gadget.
Ample space allows for an exploration of the artist's sculptural work as well, of which the strongest is "Infiltrating•Propagating II," which catches the eye with its cluster of Latex breasts hanging from the ceiling with varying lengths of monofilament. Her attempt to make sense of a disease such as breast cancer and the discrepancy between an individual's outward appearance vs. the ravages within take the form of mirrors reflecting sickly patches of pink, gray and yellow from CT scans of cancerous tumors.
"Red Scarf" by Yida Wang.
I would have liked to see her elaborate more on one of the two threads of thought running through her show, rather than divide her attentions.
More effective in this regard are Cade Roster's Plush Gaiden, bearlike sculptures juxtaposed with pencil drawings inspired by the artist's fascination with Japanese manga and anime. The installation flows easily from one work to the next, creating a lively dialog in the intimate space. In both, recurring characters from Roster's imagination, as well as versions of himself from different periods of his life, must navigate unknown and often terrifying territories, exhibiting a very human cocktail of confusion, angst, humiliation, humor and curiosity.
Rounding out Roster's statement are two life-size sculptures in the Japanese garden outside the gallery.
Goudreau and Martinez are a collaborative team based in Haiku, Maui, and their contribution to the exhibition is a mixed media installation of three-channel video, sketches and Polaroid montage depicting the sugar industry's social and economic impact on Maui past and present.
Baxter's installation of sculptures are impressive in her meticulous transformation of recycled bicycle tires and molded wax into highly polished pieces that often look as if they were fashioned from soft, pliant leather. Pieces appear to blossom with life or hang ominously as if to strangle all it might enfold. Baxter's use of recycled materials provide commentary on the lure of consumerism and its chokehold on society.
"8th Grade" by Cade Roster is a mixed media piece.
Meidor Hu's "Chinese Opera" series of digital photographs depicts the artist costumed as Chinese opera characters against backdrops of national parks across the country. Originally from China, the artist suggests that as mobile as society is today, it is still not easy to disappear into another land, physically or culturally.
Of all her photographs, the strongest is of a character on the ground, struggling in the snow. Other portraits are static and no more intriguing than an ordinary roadside tourist snapshot.
Zebzda's installation of traffic signs takes viewers on a road trip via objects guiding our everyday actions, sometimes in confusing ways. The works make good use of the space alloted. Yet, one could not help thinking this subject matter was last new in Pop Art of the 1950s through the work of Robert Indiana, Allan D'Arcangelo and the combines of Robert Rauschenberg.
While every artist grows at his or her own pace, it is a struggle of those who show their work in art capitals around the world to break new ground, or at least make the attempt. Should we expect any less of Hawaii artists?
Javier Martinez's "Tent Machine Sky."
"Laws of Attraction," a piece by Wayne Zebzda made of highway road lines.