Sunday, February 21, 2010
Amorous of island art
By Jaimey Hamilton
Special to The Advertiser
Galerie 103, which opened last August on Kaua'i, showcases contemporary art by local and international artists. Its current show, "An Affair in the Islands," acts as a contemporary love letter to Hawai'i.
Last weekend I fell in love with Galerie 103 on Kaua'i. It would be easy to write this off as an infatuation of the Valentine's commodified schmaltzy variety. Romance was in the air. But as I walked around the spacious gallery with its exposed piping and concrete floors, all imbued with the vital energy of its owner, photographer Bruna Stude, I realized that this was the beginning of a more considered, deeply satisfying long-term affair. It is another positive sign that Hawai'i's contemporary arts scene is going in the right direction. (Other indicators include the ongoing success of Honolulu's thirtyninehotel as a flexible exhibition space and Maui's Paia Contemporary Gallery.)
Galerie 103 rises above the tourist art galleries that proliferate on the islands, and even puts the college and university art galleries to shame. How? By conceiving of a space that combines the best of local talent with international artists in spare, smart shows that challenge the notion of regionalism that has preoccupied Hawai'i artists, gallerists and collectors for so long. In opening a world-class gallery on the south shore of Kaua'i, Stude proves that instead of endlessly comparing ourselves to other art centers, the Hawai'i arts community can simply take pride in the fact that we are part of a vibrant global art culture — that internationally important art can and does happen here.
Galerie 103 opened its doors last August in the new Kukui'ula Village commercial space in Po'ipū and features, among others, the large-scale paintings of Sally French, Tom Lieber and Mack James. It also has an annex with works on paper, art furniture, objets d'art, and a selection of artist books that rivals West Coast collections. There are also plans in the distant future for video/multimedia space. Stude makes no apologies for what could be seen as an idiosyncratic collection (which includes West Coast funk artist H.C. Westermann, the under-exposed visionary talent of Kaua'i's Kathleen Adair Brown, and Croatian artist Ante Mandarić). Why should she? Instead, she works from the gut to cultivate the best talent that Kaua'i has to offer, puts them into dialogue with her international stable of artists, and then lets the art speak for itself. Her choices are courageous, highly cultivated and impassioned. All of it is well-crafted, smart, layered, and yet deeply playful.
My reaction to the gallery is no doubt affected by Stude's own infectious and ongoing love affair with Hawai'i and its art. This is evident in the current show, which is a kind of love letter to Hawai'i, and all of the islands that have shaped a life of artistic adventure. Inspired by Westermann's lithograph "An Affair in the Islands" (1972), the exhibit features an eclectic intercontinental group of artists who have responded to the ways in which islands are the settings, inspiration, and even the protagonists for impassioned relations.
Instead of perpetuating the clich of island "fantasy," Stude curated a show in which an island "affair," with its commingling of love and politics, is more suggestive. It incorporates three bodies of work all loosely informed by the feminist decorative arts movement of the '70s: the romantically inclined quilt collages of Karen Gally, the beaded faux-naive work of A. Kimberlin Blackburn, and the Victorian-esque Xerox collages of Kathleen Adair Brown. The show also features some never-before-exhibited paintings and small assemblages by Doug Britt, which in turn were informed by Westermann and W.T. Wiley, '70s own folk-funk aesthetic. All of the pieces exude a hopeful energy, while also hinting at the darker side of island affairs, especially when western bravado comes traipsing in. Doug Britt's "Quiet" from 1985, in which a collaged face in a helicopter oafishly peers down at the brilliant blue of Hanalei Bay, captures how our love for Hawai'i can lead to other embroiled passions.
Doug Britt calls it like he sees it. Stude does the same in her choices for the gallery walls, responding honestly and from the heart, and expecting Hawai'i's art audiences to do the same. Her next show, "A-HA," Art by Hawai'i-based artists, which she has invited Inger Tully of The Contemporary Museum to curate, promises to continue to raise eyebrows and to elicit our passion for Hawai'i-based art.
"Untitled a," acrylic on canvas, cardboard by Doug Britt.