A blog of art happenings in and around Honolulu, Hawai'i

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Pencils Down: Grad Student Exhibit at the UH Art Gallery

Student art exhibitions can run the gamut, from exciting and innovative to sloppy, over-studied or cliche. The current graduate student show up at the UH Art Gallery, 31: Graduate Student Exhibition, demonstrates the breadth of techniques and ideas being explored by UH's current crop of MFA students. The exhibit contains 17 students working in media and formats including painting, printmaking, photography, glass, fiber, ceramics, mixed media and installation.

Detail: Alyssa Olivier, Love Notes

Two of the clear visitor favorites in the show are full-room installations by Alyssa Olivier and J. Robert Reed. In Olivier's Love Notes, the gallery visitor is invited to participate in her ongoing mail art project of sending love letters. Olivier has created a bare-bones domestic setting complete with desk, chair and bed as well as a variety of papers and writing instruments, and visitors are encouraged to sit at the desk and compose a letter to their beloved. If left in the nearby box, these love notes will be sent by Olivier, and delivery receipts to be reincorporated into the Love Notes project as demonstrated by the installation's quilt. In a time when two-second text message communications reign supreme, Olivier's installation encourages the visitor to stop, sit, and interact with others on a basic human level.

J. Robert Reed, Let Them Eat Cake!

J. Robert Reed's installation, Let Them Eat Cake!, transforms a room of the gallery into a sort of plastic bag bacchanalia. A larger-than-life size female figure stands in the center of the room, comprised of bags, springs, sequins, mirrors, cups, beercans, fan casing, crutches, and assorted other white and silver debris. Plastic bag streamers ascend to all corners of the room, and the walls are adorned with variety of glitter-bedazzled mirrors. The installation is simultaneously repulsive in its cheap, showy display of disposable products and delightful in its playful nod and wink to the excesses of our consumerist society. Following after the titular quote often attributed to Marie Antoinette, Reed's installation encourages us all to consider both the appealing and the unwanted consequences of our behavior as consumers.

Brian Chih-Chiang Lo, Marriage of School Girls and Auto Battery

Brian Chih-Chiang Lo's series of three mixed media works also consider the spaces of excess within contemporary society, only in Lo's case it is a specific sort of interconnected, networked virtual society he is referencing. Drawing on the popularity of social websites such as MySpace and Facebook, Lo's works pull photographs from personal profiles, and question the necessity of sharing intimate details of one's private life with a community of often near-strangers. Lo defaces these images, drawing and writing on top of them to further degrade the already small photographs and remove them from their original context, creating instead an imposed network of self-referentiality between images and text.

Liam C. Davis, The Incident

Lo's works are complemented well by The Incident, the adjacent painting of Liam C. Davis. Following in the conceptual tradition of artists such as Lawrence Weiner, in The Incident Davis attempts to convey a series of actions or events via written language. However, the specifics of "the incident" remain vague: the three people in question could be anyone, and the incident could be anything. More than describing a specific event, Davis works to give us a template with which to record nearly any event we may want to diagram. Through the seemingly logical visual analysis of the situation, abstract concepts such as feelings are transformed into recordable and quantifiable entities. If Olivier's and Lo's contributions to the exhibit rally against the current trend of diagrammatic networks of social relationships via the internet and isolation of individuals into mere binary code, Davis's painting shows us how such networks might break down human relationships into a schematic system.

Detail: Ryan Greenly, Los Tres Martires de Picasso

Other compelling works in the exhibit include Adam Stratton's thoughtful Values of Erosion, Elizabeth Curtis' graphic work, Ryan Greenly's iconoclastic take on the cult of Picasso, and the dubious Vending Machine attributed to Spoof Brancisco. Overall, themes of technology and isolation, consumption and excess, and progress and traditionalism seem to dominate
31: Graduate Student Exhibition, but fittingly so: these are art students staking a claim for the continued relevancy of their work in the face of so much art which has come before them. To be not only technically proficient but also insightful without falling prey to the cliches of centuries of art practice is a heavy task.

31: Graduate Student Exhibition features the artists Adam Stratton, Allison Uttley, Alyssa Olivier, Boz Schurr, Brian Chih-Chiang Lo, Elizabeth Curtis, Emily McIlroy, J. Robert Reed, Jennifer Rubin, Lauren Adelman, Liam Davis, Ryan Greenly, Sara Hertenstein, Satoshi Takahira, Scoop Brancisco, Shannon Leitch and Yongsheng Yang. The exhibit will be on display at the University of Hawaii Art Gallery from January 18 through February 13, 2009.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Angry Woebot Invades Makiki Heights

Aaron Martin, aka Angry Woebot, has been omnipresent in Honolulu recently. From the Nu'uanu Gallery show to live painting at Loft, Martin is making the rounds. This week he is up at The Contemporary Museum painting a new mural by the cafe. Tomorrow is his last day, so stop by for lunch between 11:30am and 2:30pm to catch him in action and see the (near) finished product.

Aaron Martin, aka Angry Woebot, painting at The Contemporary Cafe

Artist Talk with Susan Middleton at the ARTS at Marks Garage

If being green is hip, the ARTS at Marks Garage is leading the fashionable green gallery brigade in Honolulu. From their fantastic Eco-Logic exhibit last year to their current show Archipelago and Remains of the Rainbow, the gallery has given environmentally-conscious art a high profile locally.

Detail of Redbanded Hawkfish

Photographer and environmentalist Susan Middleton will be talking about her work in Archipelago and Remains of the Rainbow this Thursday, January 29, at 7pm at the ARTS at Marks Garage as part of Third Thursdays. The exhibit is on display from December 5, 2008 through January 31, 2009.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Art Lunch with Laura Smith

Printmaker Laura Smith, Executive Director of the Honolulu Printmakers and co-founder of the Honolulu Printmaking Workshop will discuss her current body of work this Tuesday, January 27, from noon to 1pm at the Hawai‘i State Art Museum. Smith's prints are on view in Exteriors: New Prints by Laura Smith at The Gallery at Ward Centre from January 3 through January 29, 2009.

The lunchtime lecture series is an ongoing program of public art talks on the last Tuesday of the month, sponsored by the Hawai'i State Foundation on Culture and the Arts. More information about this lecture as well as other HSFCA programming can be found in their monthly Enews.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

In Print! Review of Traces and Trajectories in today’s Advertiser

Does focusing on a particular ethnic group in a contemporary art exhibition serve to provide a collaborative environment for discussion of a shared ethnic experience, or does it do a disservice to that group by ghettoizing them from the larger contemporary art discourse? In what ways can such an exhibit (and the writing about such an exhibit) work to portray a range of perspectives instead of essentializing the experiences of a broad group of people into a single shared trait?

Jinchul Kim, Covergent Thinking, 2008

Traces and Trajectories: Current Works by Ten Korean-American Artists is an exhibit that explores just these sorts of issues. Pick up today’s Honolulu Advertiser for my full review including some superior photography by Alan Konishi. The exhibit is on display at the Academy Art Center at Linekona from January 6 through January 31, 2009.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bringing Graffiti into the White Cube: Intersections of High & Low at Nu'uanu Gallery

Intersections of high and low art can be fuzzy. The National Gallery recently accessioned Shepard Fairey's ubiquitos campaign poster of Obama into its collection, and the graffiti artist Banksy's work is now sold at auction by Sotheby's for upwards of £100,000.

Angry Woebot, Condom Machine

Gruesome Smile, the exhibit currently on view at Nu'uanu Gallery, plays with just this blurring of high and low. The exhibit features the loosely-painted, graphically-rendered characters of
artist Aaron Martin, aka Angry Woebot. Using everyday objects from street life and club culture (skateboards, a condom-dispensing machine), Martin employs bold and fluid brushwork to create a world of anthropomorphic pandas and other animals. His style draws heavily on the street culture of graffiti, often emphasizing speed and flow over detail or elaborateness.

Angry Woebot, Mulsh

By bringing Martin's work into the traditional white walls of a gallery setting, Nu'uanu Gallery prompts the question: what divides street art from high art, and is it a worthwhile distinction in the first place?

Gruesome Smile is on view at Nu'uanu Gallery from January 2 through February 7, 2009.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Art Lecture on Religion, Power & Culture in the Mughal Empire



Ned Bertz will be giving a lecture titled "Between the Sword and the Crescent: Imperial Cosmopolitanism in Art of the Mughal Empire" this Monday, January 12. Dr. Bertz, Assistant Professor of the history of the Indian Ocean world and South Asia at UH Manoa, will examine the lives and influences of the two Indian emperors Jahangir and Shah Jahan of the 17th century. The lecture coincides with the exhibit Muraqqa´: Imperial Mughal Albums from the Chester Beatty Library at the Academy, and also nicely complements the recent exhibit Field of Flowers: Mughal Carpets and Treasures at the East-West Center Gallery.

The lecture is sponsored by the Society of Asian Art of Hawai'i and will be held on Monday, January 12 at 7:30pm in the Yukiyoshi Room of the John Young Museum of Art. For more information, call 396-9529.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Stitch In Time: Gelareh Khoie at thirtyninehotel

Something happened to abstraction by the mid-1980s. What was once a vibrant, subversive undercurrent in the art world had become integrated, staid, and even institutional in its production and reception. Abstraction, especially in the form of traditional painting and sculpture, was largely relegated the realm of corporate lobbies and board rooms. Luckily, like all things cyclical, abstraction has lived on and continues to be explored in new and exciting ways.

Detail of Gelareh Khoie, Us Two, 2008

In on the road to walkman: new work by gelareh khoie at thirtyninehotel, abstraction is reinvigorated through lively compositions utilizing surprising combinations of color and shape. Khoie employs rounded irregular forms, often cloud-like or tuberous, and hues so vivid that they seem to vibrate on the canvas surface. Blocks of color are often separated by a thin strip of fuzzy pigmentation or delicate black stitching: lines as often indicate interior shape and volume as define boundaries.

Detail of Gelareh Khoie, Lose Something Precious, 2008

Khoie’s titles bestow hints of figural meaning. In harmony at wartime, a simplistic canon reminiscent of Jacob Lawrence’s paper cut-outs is easily identified. In three songs, a series of three telephone poles is visible upon a mound of brown. An oversized white gem form is featured with radiating rays of color in lose something precious. This intermingling of figurative and non-figurative allows Khoie to employ a loose, melded language of recognizable form and the more symbolic components of color and shape. Her paintings rest in the space between semantic systems, thankfully challenging us to think in ways that corporate lobbies never will.

The exhibit on the road to walkman: new works by gelareh khoie is on display at thirtyninehotel from January 2 through January 24, 2009.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Fragmented Memories: Michael Sweitzer at the HPU Art Gallery

Childhood nostalgia is often saccharine. Memories of a birthday are immortalized in family snapshots, baby shoes cast in bronze, school drawings saved in keepsake boxes. These memories tend to be the happy ones; the not so happy ones forgotten or pushed aside. In his current exhibit at the HPU Art Gallery, Michael Sweitzer explores these facets of our stories. Through his reinterpretation of his personal history, Sweitzer's paintings work to expose the paring and fissures that might occur within our own recollections.

Michael Sweitzer; Eat Fish, Oysters & Clams

Sweitzer works from old snapshots, adapting the images in acrylic. He removes the figures from their context and splices them on top of an abstracted, stenciled background in spray paint. Through this removal, his paintings juxtapose figures with an indeterminate but decidedly contemporary setting.

Michael Sweitzer, These are My Racing Stripes

Many of his images are cropped close: legs, feet, shoulders and even heads removed from our gaze. The image begins to hint at an underlying narrative, often helped along by a descriptive title, but the full story is never revealed. Sweitzer's memories, like his figures, are obscured. Removed from their context they float upon an amorphous background. He includes images of children and iconic childhood objects, but they never become saccharine in their removal from context. Instead they stand before us as signals of a partially-lost but not forgotten past.

Small Doses Daily: Recent Works by Michael Sweitzer is on view at the HPU Art Gallery from November 23, 3008 through January 16, 2009.

Mahalo to aloHAA!

I feel a little like I've been outed, but in the best of ways. The traffic to this blog has been spiking for the past couple days, thanks to Lesa Griffith at the Honolulu Academy of Arts and their wonderful blog aloHAA. They're covering all things Academy-related over there, including some great write-ups on their film program, and plenty of videos and behind-the-scenes info on Academy exhibitions. I'm pleased to be in such good company in the Honolulu art blogosphere.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Trading Identities: Portraiture at the Honolulu Academy of Arts

Yasumasa Morimura likes to dress up. With the primary tool of identity appropriation, the fifty-something male, Japanese artist likes to transform himself into art historical, political and pop culture icons ranging from the Mona Lisa to Brigitte Bardot. His work seems to be omnipresent these days: The Contemporary Museum here in Honolulu owns his self portrait as Marilyn Monroe, and I had the pleasure of seeing his installation after Goya's Caprichos, in addition to his dual-screened video appropriation of an Adolf Hitler speech, at the Prospect.1 art biennial in New Orleans this past November. Most recently, his work Ambiguous Beauty is on display as part of the Honolulu Academy of Arts' third installment of its Graphic Cabinet series, titled Face to Face.

Yasumasa Morimura, Ambiguous Beauty, 1995

Ambiguous Beauty was a work commissioned by the software entrepreneur Peter Norton as part of his annual series of limited edition gifts designed by contemporary artists. Each object designed for the Peter Norton Christmas Project, as it has come to be called, is manufactured by the artist's studio in an edition of 2,500 to 5,000, and is sent out by Norton as a gift to his friends and associates.

In the case of Ambiguous Beauty, Morimura has designed a traditional Japanese-style wood and paper fan, printed with the image of the artist reclining in the style of a prototypical Hollywood pinup girl. The artist has adorned himself with all the most obvious markings of gender: flowing hair, ruby red lips, and a curvaceously-poised body. However, the illusion begins to fracture before it is even complete: the breasts are flanked by a wrinkled, too-pale strap, the jawline too prominent, and the forearms and stomach decidedly muscular. In this illusion, as with much of Morimura's work, he rests at an uneasy center between two poles. The illusion is neither male nor female, neither Japanese nor American. He deconstructs gender and racial idetities to pull apart the certainty with which we might tend to view such equations.

Face to Face: installation view

In addition to Morimura, photographers shown in Face to Face include Robert Frank, Sally Mann, Robert Mapplethorpe, Weegee, William Wegman, Edward Weston and Garry Winogrand. Face to Face is on view at the Academy from October 23, 2008 through February 22, 2009.