Isle portraiture show has wide appeal


POSTED: Sunday, May 31, 2009

The upcoming federal census will track our people with numbers and percentages and bar charts.We'll be categorized by gender, race, age, political and religious affiliation, etc., etc., etc. All the data will be chronicled in an imagined thick booklet with thin pages and small type.





        » On exhibit: through Sept. 11

» Place: The Contemporary Museum at First Hawaiian Center, 999 Bishop St.


» Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays and until 6 p.m. Fridays


»  Call: 526-0232


» Note: Gallery will be open 7 to 9 p.m. June 5, July 3, Aug. 7 and Sept. 4 for First Friday event. On June 5, juror David Behlke and Neida Bangerter of the Maui Arts & Cultural Center will discuss the jurying process. On July 3, artists Stephen Niles, Madeleine Soder, Wayne Takazono and Nancy Vilhauer discuss self-portraiture.




Statisticians might be awaiting this report with bated breath, but it's fair to guess most other folks are stifling a yawn. Yet, no one can say it's unimportant to know who makes up our community.

That begs the question: What are the ways we document a people? In the art world, the traditional means was through the portrait. Centuries-old paintings of important people in formal dress and stiff poses crowd museums everywhere. Unfortunately, it's common in these modern times for people to react to such artwork with the same enthusiasm they would muster for a census report.

Enter the Schaefer Portrait Challenge. Launched on Maui in 2003, the triennial statewide juried show has, in just a few years, become a respected, popular exhibit with both Hawaii artists and art followers.

“;Getting into this show is very important to artists' careers,”; says Neida Bangerter, gallery director at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, which housed the show in January and February.

This third Schaefer show traveled to Honolulu and opened Friday at the Contemporary Museum at First Hawaiian Center. It features portraits of people of all ages; 15 of the 56 works are self-portraits. If Maui's reception of the exhibit is any indication, it should be well received on Oahu, to say the least.

“;Eight thousand people came through the gallery (this year on Maui),”; says Bangerter. “;People love seeing people.”;

A portrait exhibit drawing thousands? What gives?

For starters, Schaefer moves beyond the bounds of traditional portraiture. The lineup includes experimental 2-D works and sculptures in wood, ceramic and mixed media.

Second, Bangerter says, “;We want artists to go beyond the likenesses. We want them to capture the spirit of their subjects.”;

And last, but certainly not least, the show offers a people's-choice award that allows visitors to vote for their favorite piece.

“;Some folks came through two or three times, saying, 'I don't know who to pick.' It's a visual arts version of 'American Idol,'”; Bangerter says with a laugh.

The award is more than an accolade; it includes a $5,000 prize.

It doesn't end there. Schaefer (named after underwriters Carolyn and Jack Schaefer Gray) offers an even bigger prize: the Juror's Choice Award, worth $15,000. This year's winner, Rich Hevner, “;is a guy who washes windows for a living,”; says David Behlke, one of four jurors. “;His wife was in tears, and he said, 'You have no idea what this means for a humble window washer.'”;

The commitment to Schaefer, financial and otherwise, is rooted in a value for “;chronicling the face of our community,”; says Bangerter. “;These works represent the multicultural profile of Hawaii.”;

SOME 240 ENTRIES were submitted this year, and it was the job of jurors Maile Andrade, David Behlke, A. Kimberlin Blackburn and Wayne Miyamoto to tackle the selection process. All but Blackburn, who is a professional artist on Kauai, are educators. The strength of this group, says Bangerter, is that each juror is a working artist.

“;I love being present at the jurying, watching the dialogue and horse trading and conversations,”; she says. “;Making selections is not easy, but this group really knows how to look at art. They know how to compose a show.”;

Andrade says the jurors looked for several things: the story the portrait told, the skill in the craft and whether the work says what it should be saying “;in terms of format, style, color choices, things like that.”;

Selecting the best pieces was a breeze that immediately garnered unanimous agreement. When the second tier of selection began, however, it was the group's harmonious nature that kept the job enjoyable.

“;We had great discussions,”; Andrade says. “;Everyone kept it very professional and respected each others' opinions. ... Everyone was pretty seasoned.”;

Behlke agrees wholeheartedly.

“;What I really appreciated was the dialogue that ensued,”; he says. “;Everyone had a rich sense of humor, so whenever there was a hint of tension, someone would crack a joke. That really helped the give and take of discussion.

“;What I was impressed by most (in this show) was the quality,”; Behlke continues. “;There was exciting work; some pieces were so well accomplished, and others took risks with the medium.”;

Andrade says she had expected to see formal portraits, and there were those, “;but others took it out. There was a good balance, formal to contemporary. I think the show is really strong.”;

Andrade teaches at UH-Manoa and spends summers traveling the globe to discuss native art; her specialty and first love is native Hawaiian art. Her upcoming schedule includes visits to Indonesia, Paris, New Zealand and Santa Fe, N.M.

Andrade says that because of her travels and the fact that she mostly works in curation, she's always seeking the work of emerging artists. What she sees reaffirms her confidence in the caliber of Hawaii artists.

“;I see a lot of stuff, international and local, and in the scope of what's going on, Hawaii's right in there.”;