Saturday, March 6, 2010

Art Maui: March 7 to April 2 at Schaefer International Gallery

It can inspire, like Carmen Gardner's portrait of the late Aunty Genoa Keawe, famed Hawaiian songbird and ambassador of aloha. It can trigger memories and take you back to hanabata days fishing on the pier with friends, just like the boys in Kirk Kurokawa's "Dream Catcher." It's visual meditation, like Tony Novack-Clifford's "Horizon Obscured I," where it's easy to get lost in the lines until the elements become one.

"It" is Art Maui. And it's back.

The 32nd annual juried exhibition returns to the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Schaefer International Gallery, once again showcasing who's moving and what's shaking in the local art community.

"We want to see what our artists are doing that's unique and creative," says Art Maui show chairwoman Chris Scharein. "Our goal is to show people who are reaching beyond in their art. We don't want status quo."

Founded in the late '70s as an avenue to showcase high-caliber works and encourage art collecting, Art Maui is the little exhibition that could. After more than three decades of chugging along and promoting the local art scene, it's evolved into arguably the most prestigious show in town.

The highly-competitive exhibit garnered 565 entries this year, with juror Kenneth Bushnell narrowing the field to 144 that includes everything from ceramics to sculpture and printmaking to photography. Bushnell is a practicing artist who actively exhibits locally, nationally and internationally, and is currently professor of art emeritus at University of Hawai'i. He divides his time between studios in New York City, the south of France and Honolulu.

"In my mind he's an individual who over the years has become in tune with art from all over the world," says Scharein. "Now he's coming here and selecting art based on his experience, which gives the artists here in our community that worldly perspective."

The exhibition encourages artists to move past the commodity-driven art scene and step into their own imagination.

"A lot of times in a gallery, artists will feel pressure to produce something for selling, but this is a space that really highlights their creativity. It's a show where the juror will look at something from the artistic side and not from the dollar sign," artist and exhibit designer Joelle C. Perz explains.

The collection represents a cross section of styles and mediums, keeping the viewer stimulated throughout. Visitors are immediately struck with a sense of place as Sidney Yee's "Pundy's Vision" hangs in the forefront. Depicting the Yokouchi Family Pavillion currently being built just steps outside the gallery, the painting is a preview of what's to come. The pyramid-like glass structure resembling the Louvre in Paris pays homage to the late Pundy Yokouchi, a prominent Maui businessman and driving force behind the MACC's inception.

"It's always difficult to find an entrance piece that means something," explains Perz. "I love that it goes with the timing of the new construction and at the same time (Yee) is such a talent, so it's celebrating him as well as this place."

Designer Perz, whose "Native Imprint" piece was selected as the publicity image for next year's show, is challenged with assembling this 144-piece puzzle into one cohesive exhibit. Pulling off this larger-than-life brain teaser is an art in itself, she says.

"The design and flow is really important to me. My goal is that every piece shines within this space, and that's the real difficulty."

Leaving Yee's piece and following a counter-clockwise flow, the viewer is taken on a thematic journey where the pieces move from organic, heavy color and texture, dreamworld, whimsical, contemporary and abstract.

Established artists and Art Maui veterans are represented: Judy Bisgard, Joseph Fletcher, Tim Garcia, Carmen Gardner, Ditmar Hoerl, Tom Sewell, Bjorn and Nancy Skrimstad, Sandy Vitarelli and others. While the names may be familiar, per eligibility criteria, each artwork is making its debut at the exhibit.

The job of the artist isn't done once the piece is in hanging on the wall or sitting under the spotlight. Each participant also volunteers time to making the show happen, including manning the gallery during visitor hours. This personal touch is one of the things that makes Art Maui unique, says Scharein.

"When people come in while an artist is here, it makes it so much more intimate and special because they can make that connection."

"It's amazing how many people volunteer and how gracious they are about it," adds Perz. "The artists love to help because they feel this is for them - it's really a show that highlights their creativity."

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