A matter of perspective


POSTED: Sunday, May 10, 2009

Arguments abound over the provincial limitations of regional art (or regional anything, for that matter). How does an artist—particularly in Hawaii, where exposure to outside influence is challenging—navigate a sense of place and reference to culture and not be limited by these influences?





        »  On exhibit: Thursday through Aug. 16

» Place: Honolulu Academy of Arts, 900 S. Beretania St.


» Museum hours: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays


» Admission: $10; $5 seniors, students, military; 12 and under (and members) free


» Call: 532-8700




Some say artists never jump that hurdle unless they leave; others contend that our unique perspectives are really our strength.

The Honolulu Academy of Arts attempts to address this quandary through its “;Artists of Hawaii”; juried exhibit, once an annual event and now biennial. (”;Artists of Hawaii 2009”; kicks off the new format.) The museum selects for each show an outside juror, always with an illustrious background, who lends fresh insight to the work of local artists. This year's juror, Laura Hoptman, certainly fits the bill: She serves as senior curator of the New Museum of Contemporary Art, one of the finest contemporary museums in New York.

Hoptman's perspective offers an appreciative gaze on what she deems the “;very distinctive regional flavor”; of Hawaii-generated art.

“;Artists are choosing to take advantage of the visual language of the indigenous people of Hawaii. It's very precious to be able to retain that kind of distinctive voice,”; she says. “;I'm a great believer that regional accents make a work richer.”;

Hoptman admits she had preconceptions about what Hawaii art would look like. Some of those were met as she pored over 951 slide images of art by 299 local artists. Hoptman went through several rounds of selection before arriving at the 88 works by 64 artists for this year's show.

She notes how works reference triangular shapes and patterns from ancient Hawaii, such as “;a toothlike pattern”; and sculptures that echo the form of a mountain.

“;Light is different in paintings, because Hawaii is an island with lots of water and sun,”; Hoptman continues. “;There's such natural beauty there that it would be remiss for artists not to use that beauty.”;

THE NEW FORMAT of “;Artists of Hawaii”; includes studio visits by the juror, offering artists valuable feedback on their work by a well-established art expert. Hoptman visited some 20 artists, including three on Kauai, who were selected as finalists for the show's nine awards.

“;Laura was great, very knowledgeable,”; says Rui Sasaki, an assistant curator at the academy who coordinated the show. “;She offered good guidance, especially to the emerging artists. There were a couple of times when she saw things in the studio that hadn't been submitted for the show, and (she and the artist) decided to switch out works.”;

Sasaki says the intention behind the academy's selection of jurors “;is to bring someone who can hopefully energize the art community here. I think she did that.”;

As for said community, Hoptman says she considers the caliber of the work here “;very high.”;

“;I don't buy that argument about isolation,”; especially with the advent of electronic media, she says. “;Young artists under the age of 33 all grew up with the Internet, and they're better at participating at an international level.”;

Neither does she consider Hawaii to be off the map artistically.

“;It's a tiny island full of famous people with huge media attention—the whole world knows Hawaii,”; Hoptman says. “;So many artists choose to go to school at the University of Hawaii because they want to live in Hawaii. They want to live amid the natural beauty.

“;I've never gone to a city where I could say there's a low caliber of creative production,”; she continues. “;I saw work in Hawaii made by people who have spent their whole lives doing art. Some were not to my taste. Some were old-fashioned. But, hopefully, I provided a reasonable judgment of quality.”;