Punahou Carnival's Art Gallery to Showcase Work of 250+ Hawaii Artists


Within the last few months, Honolulu’s art community has seen two solid local art galleries box up and ship out to New York—Kaimuki’s Ektopia will move to Tribeca this spring and Chinatown’s thirtyninehotel is looking for space in Brooklyn. Maybe it’s salve rather than salt on the wounds that the theme of the 2014 Punahou Carnival, opening this weekend, is “New York, New York, The Carnival That Never Sleeps.”

Punahou School estimates that around 40,000 people will spend time with the Carnival’s game booths, rides, and carny food (an annual tradition co-organized by the school’s junior student body); there’s a silent auction, the infamous white elephant tent, and an art show, too.

That art show, hung in the Mamiya Science Center and opening with a preview reception on Tuesday afternoon at 4:30 p.m., is estimated to bring in a third of the carnival’s earnings. Punahou School takes a 50-percent commission on sales of work, an average rate for galleries, and generous when you remember it’s a fundraiser for the 500-plus students benefitting from the school’s financial-aid program.

Today, the Punahou Art Gallery is the biggest event of its kind in the state. More than 250 artists have brought in about 1,200 pieces of their photographs, ceramics, oil and watercolor paintings, woodwork, sculptures, and jewelry to sale. And this stuff sells, too, with customers ranging from trustees and gallery owners to aunties and tutus.

“It’s an opportunity,” says the painter Peter Shepard Cole. “Artists sell more there than anywhere. For me, it’s like basic survival trying to sell stuff, and it’s great that it goes through their scholarship program. […] It’s humbling to realize how many artists are here, and how many people are good at it.”

“Our art gallery has become an important venue for emerging artists to get exposure,” says Carnival coordinator Lee Ann Ichimura. “But for me, part of it is also the coming together of our junior class. It’s a learning experience for our students, a great leadership opportunity.”

Students help with designing the invitations, welcoming guests, and organizing the show alongside parents who volunteer to run it. Outside of campus though, it’s an event most artists and collectors have come to depend on every year. Artists love it, because they can depend on the sales—some have built a business model around it, making pieces specifically for this event. Buyers love it too, because they’re getting art from renowned veterans, or discovering an unknown artist, all while supporting the artists and their alma mater. Ichimura estimates that a third of the artists have graduated from Punahou.

But for local galleries, which exist in a city that doesn’t really support a plethora of them, the Punahou Art Gallery can be steep competition. Mike Schnack, owner of Cedar Street Gallery and alum of Punahou (he says he’s been “very intimate” with Punahou’s art show in the past and helped install pieces for this year’s show), admits, “You have to feel that it has to have an impact because there’s so much sold during that time. There is no other event that has a selection like they have. It’s phenomenal. All styles and price points next to each other in one location. […] It does suck all the air out of the room in some regards, because there are a lot of sales. But it’s great for the art community, including galleries, because it does get people excited about art.”

Schnack even encourages the artists he represents to participate in the show, letting them pick up their works from Cedar Street to sell at Punahou. “The more any given artist has his work in the public view,” he says, “the better. It is for [that artist’s] sales overall. I always tell them, get your name and your work out there in all the different venues that you can and it can do nothing but help your reputation and, hence, help our sales.”

The show is hung like a salon in sections, portraiture here and landscapes there, and not all of it is fantastic. There is a cluster that you could mistake as the Honolulu Zoo fence, but there’s way more good stuff than bad. For example, Jared Yamanuha’s “Mrs. Barry’s Kona Cookies,” a photograph cut with psychedelic, precise designs from his recent Omiyage series, is on sale for $800, and Peter Shepard Cole has six of his gorgeous, saturated 40-inch-wide wave paintings going for $3,000 each.

Sculptor and painter John Koga, who has six pieces in the show, is a consultant and acted as co-curator with Allison Wong to decide which pieces to put on the wall and which to keep in back stock.

“I’m running it purely as a business,” he says. “It’s about making money for the scholarship program.” Whereas this isn’t a juried show, Koga says he still considers what will sell depending on who will look at it. “There’s a lot of wood bowls, for example, because wood bowls sell. At a certain point, I get into a trance. People are putting art in my face every second, so I’m making decisions.”

Any artists interested in selling next year can email carnivalartgallery@punahou.edu with a link to their website or photos representing their work. If you’re a collector, get there early and choose fast. If you see something you like, make sure you’re okay with letting it go before you walk away from it, because things sell fast.

The works are on view at Punahou School’s Mamiya Science Center on Tuesday, from 4:30 to 8 p.m., and during Carnival hours, Friday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Prices for the art, like its quality, run the gamut.

Koga says it should be a good year for the show and for the scholarship program. “Punahou has a lot of support behind it. It just grew into a phenomenon when our economy was really hot. I think people are looking forward to it. People are not holding back.”