Street Art In A Museum? Pow Wow Hawaii Artists Get Some Respect

Gaia's 'Queen Liliuokalani and Lanai Island' and Pam Glew's 'Fly For Me' are a few art pieces in POW! WOW!: Exploring The New Contemporary Art Movement.

Photos: Courtesy Thinkspace Gallery

'Millie's Pick' by Esao Andrews.

This week marks Pow! Wow! Hawaii’s fourth return (the week-long street-art event happens every year around Valentine’s Day) and the artists—every one of them hip and wearing clothes in ways that make me think they must be from the future—are back in full force, baking in the hot Kakaako sun and painting walls throughout the neighborhood with murals of treehouse utopias, pissed-off pandas, flying sharks and words that remind us we are, in fact, in paradise.

Is it art? I’ve heard the old stuffed shirts in the Local Serious Art Scene brush Pow Wow off, in a “What does a picture of a vomiting cat say about the human condition, really?” way, while others, myself included, consider the question simply irrelevant. At the very least, these works exhibit a shift in a certain popular art in the post-Internet age. These are artists who sign their murals with their Instagram name.

And while the larger art institutions have been slow to consider these works critically (our local museums included), this year Pow Wow marks the first curated show at one of those institutions, the Honolulu Museum of Art School, titled Pow! Wow! Exploring the New Contemporary Art Movement.

Call it a show-and-tell of skill or a paradigm shift in contemporary art, but a whole movement? It’s a dicey thing to name an art movement while it’s only a few years old, though critics and magazines always like doing it. The editors at Hi-Fructose and Juxtapoz magazines have endorsed the label “New Contemporary” so hard that Hi-Fructose pretty much considers itself the bible of New Contemporary Art.

'Moonlight Swim' by Dabs Myla.

'Aoki's Shaved Ice (in situ)' by Randy Hage.

Whatever you choose to call it, the exhibition at HMA School is clearly Pow Wow’s way of saying “we’re serious.” Jasper Wong, Pow Wow’s lead director and creator, brought in Andrew Hosner to curate. Hosner owns Thinkspace Gallery in Culver City, Calif., and is a prominent supporter of the trend, even arguably a progenitor of it. He admits that, while the moniker “new contemporary” is redundant, “It’s gaining recognition. We’ll just call it that until somebody art-history wise comes up with a fancier term down the line. But, by and large, it’s contemporary art separated from the contemporary art that bores 95 percent of the people. It grabs you, automatically.”

Last year’s group show, held in Fresh Cafe’s backyard warehouse, was fun, but seemed more like an afterthought critically. This show is tightly arranged. Made up of 51 international, U.S., and Hawaii artists, most are former and current Pow Wow-participating artists. Each of the pieces were made specifically for this show in Hosner’s 2-x-2-foot format, and each can be purchased by visiting Thinkspace’s website. Exploring the New Contemporary features cerebral works next to banal, and they work together to showcase the range this niche explores. If you want to try to understand and appreciate Pow Wow, this is a good place to start.

Pow! Wow! Hawaii: Exploring the New Contemporary Art is on view through Feb. 15 at the Honolulu Museum of Art School, 1111 Victoria Street, Tuesday through Sunday, 10 a.m to 9 p.m.,,