Now on view at Spalding House (the former Contemporary Art Museum), the art that composes “Biennial of Hawaii Artists X” demands a very few minutes of viewing time. You can see the exhibition in 20 minutes without hurrying.
Or you can look it at twice in a half-hour, or three times over the course of two visits in less time than it takes to eat lunch. But if you have any interest in a show purporting to have something to say about contemporary art in Hawaii, you should do all three.
This is a small exhibition of big work from six artists, all of it intensely engaged with time and place. To the extent that the biennial is intended to be representative of Hawaii artists, its success is difficult to gauge. As a collective expression about Hawaii itself, it feels right.
Jianjie Ji’s vividly textured “Reef” paintings–variations on a persistent geological theme–lay an ephemeral watery foundation for what comes after. Ji’s paintings are almost sculptural in their amorphousness, and they wash easily into a kind of projected sculpture by Jaisy Hanlon, exploring the relationship of birds and the urban nighttime. The most ethereal piece in this show, “Enlighten” may also be its most literal.
“Surcease,” an installation by Mary Babcock, which follows, is perhaps its most abstract. By mediating scale, the piece draws the viewer deep into experience of falling water. Babcock then removes–or adds–time: the water remains suspended in fall, the fire below is extinguished, and the viewer is left to wonder into a long, long now.
Bruna Stude’s hyperexposed abstract photographs are presented with a statement that roots them in water. Having read her words, it becomes impossible to know whether the images would suggest the sea without them, but the synergy is sublime. At this point in the exhibit, the viewer may wonder how it is possible for such diverse media to suggest and carry intact such a singular, if ineffable, idea.
“The Disappearing Place” is an installation harvested from koa by Sally Lundberg. Logs layered with photographs and other images stack and rise 20 feet into an articulated series of memories in the form of a tree.
The exhibition concludes with recent work in the “Polyfantastica” project by Solomon Enos. These paintings, which call to mind the offerings of a dystopian fashion house in the (very) distant future, are a kind of catholic iconography in reverse, imaginings of imaginings of either a geometrically receding past or approaching future.