Oahu is hosting two biennials and an international art fair in 2017: Artists of Hawaii 2017 will be held at the Honolulu Museum of Art through May 28. The inaugural Honolulu Biennial is March 8-May 8, and Art Hawaii International will be Nov. 2-5.
Few aficionados and collectors would rank Hawaii among the world’s top destinations for contemporary art, but young local and foreign artists are making the islands an increasingly relevant hub. Hawaiian artists who moved to the mainland after the 2008 economic crisis are returning, while the scene is inspiring artists from across the continental United States and Asia to produce works for a mostly undiscovered market.
“There’s energy here,” said Cristiano Cairati, a European collector based in New York and in Honolulu. “It’s the same energy of endless possibilities that New York had in the late ’80s and ’90s, when you could be and do anything.”
Betting on that energy, Oahu is hosting two biennials and an international art fair this year. Artists of Hawaii 2017, a biennial now in its 62nd year, will be held at the Honolulu Museum of Art from Feb. 9 to May 28. It will be joined by the inaugural Honolulu Biennial, March 8 to May 8, and Art Hawaii International, the first international art fair on the island, from Nov. 2-5, with 85 galleries scheduled to participate.
Despite overlapping with Tefaf Maastricht, arguably Europe’s biggest and most prestigious fair focused on art, antiques and design, the Honolulu Biennial is hoping to position Hawaii as “a vibrant and important center within the international biennial circuit,” said Katherine Tuider, one of its founders.
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One of the more dynamic events this year is “POW! WOW! Hawaii,” with its hopeful reference to the art’s impact on viewers, which has been held in downtown Honolulu every year since 2011. For a week starting Feb. 11, artists from around the world are covering warehouses with murals in the city’s commercial district of Kakaako.
According to Paul Theroux, a renowned American travel writer based on Oahu, a distinguishing feature of contemporary Hawaiian art is “strong color, the vividness of color, shown in marine sunlight.” He added: “You won’t find a gloomy painting, or a mist, or anything like a Whistler ‘Nocturne,’ or rain for that matter. It is always a play of sunlight and a palette that is overwhelmingly aqueous.”
The new wave of artists who are exhibiting in Hawaii often see their work through the prism of its natural resources or traditional crafts. One of the finest examples of classical Polynesian sculptures and textiles in the islands was assembled by Laurance Rockefeller, for his Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on the Big Island, in the 1960s. The weekly tour of the thousands of objects in its open galleries overlooking the ocean provides visitors with a well-rounded view of the region’s most significant crafts.
Contemporary art can prosper only if there are enough venues to show and sell it. Many artists and curators in Hawaii bemoan the shortage of private galleries, especially ones that aren’t just focused on fast-selling realist landscapes of little craft or value.
Neida Bangerter, the gallery director of the Maui Arts and Cultural Center, said her art space had shifted people’s perceptions of what art could be because artists there took risks. Through March 19, the center is exhibiting human-scale tunnels made of pure silk threads by Japanese master weaver and zero-waste advocate Akihito Izukura. East Hawaii Cultural Center, in Hilo on the Big Island, has been engaging local artists in exploring themes such as homelessness and Hawaii’s sacred sites, in a variety of media.