Celebrating 20 years


POSTED: Sunday, March 29, 2009

Unlike other museums that house and catalog works of history, a contemporary museum must also present the creme de la creme of artwork being produced now. But how does an institution stay in the know? How does it get access to top talent? Sometimes crafting new ways to discover and present such work takes as much imagination as it does to create art itself.




'20 GOING ON 21'

        » On exhibit: Through June 21

» Place: The Contemporary Museum, 2411 Makiki Heights Drive


» Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays


» Admission: $5; $3 students and seniors. Free ages 20 to 29, military, children and museum members. The third Thursday of each month is a free community day.


» Call: 526-1322




The Contemporary Museum's Jay Jensen and Inger Tully found themselves tackling just that ball of wax as they pondered how to comemmorate the museum's 20th anniversary. What they came up with in the exhibit “;20 Going on 21”; is a feat on various fronts: It is not only the museum's first juried invitational, but the show also meaningfully involved the participation of artists in the museum's past and resulted in bringing forth undiscovered talent.

“;It's not the usual juried invitational show. We wanted to bring as many elements of the artists' community as possible to this,”; says Jensen, the museum's deputy director of exhibitions and collections.

Jensen and Tully approached 42 artists featured in the museum's eight Biennial Exhibitions of Hawaii Artists and asked them to nominate their peers. The call resulted in a pool of 132 artists, whose works were reviewed by three mainland jurors: Melissa Chiu, director of the Asia Society Museum in New York; Lawrence Rinder, director of the Berkeley Art Museum in California; and Joseph Havel, artist and director of The Glassell School of Art at The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas.

Twenty artists were chosen by the jurors, and Jensen and Tully selected one more. Then the duo paid visits to each of the 21 to discuss what would be presented in the exhibit, which features artists from every island and art in every imaginable medium.

Frank Sheriff, a University of Hawaii art instructor and former Biennial artist, says the value of the exhibit is that it provides artists “;the very unique opportunity to show their work at a museum. That doesn't happen very often.”;

Ben Kikuyama of Maui, another Biennial artist, agrees. Kikuyama says he likes that the show features a large number of emerging artists. “;It gives a lot more people the chance to show their work.”;

“;Because almost 50 top artists were out of the running (Biennial artists weren't eligible), the show almost guaranteed a younger, different level of artist,”; says Jensen.

But that doesn't mean the pool of nominees wasn't up to par for a museum-quality show. “;There was a lot of very strong work. There are so many great artists in Hawaii that I'm never surprised when I see good work,”; he says.

In fact, there was so much talent that Jensen and Tully found themselves hurting for artists who didn't make the cut. “;Some of the works not selected were very good, and we thought, 'Oh! That's heartbreaking,' “; Tully recalls.

At the same time, the duo have hit the jackpot.

“;To get that much work all at once was really exceptional,”; Tully says. “;This process will help inform our (future) biennial choices.”;