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Monday, November 30, 2015

Art on the Zoo Fence

Island art for every taste, age, and wallet, much of it small enough for a suitcase.
Five days a week it's an ugly, ten-foot-tall chain link fence. But every weekend, the Honolulu Zoo fence along Monsarrat Avenue comes alive with pure Hawaiian local color from the hands and minds of some of Oahu's best and brightest native artists. It's less than a block from Honolulu's famed Waikiki Beach and it is, admittedly, a tourist attraction. It's an outdoor art gallery in the shade of ancient banyan trees, specializing in "suitcase" art--that which is small enough to fit in tourists' luggage (though, give the gargantuan size of tourist luggage these days, isn't all that great a limitation). Prices range from ten dollars to pieces flirting with four digits. It's artists selling their own work, bypassing dealers and sellers' commissions, resulting in some exceptional high-quality art for prices often less than half those of the city's pristine, laid-back, storefront galleries (which are, in any case, catering to the same tourist crowd).

For sixty-two years, Hawaiian artists, buyers, and browsers have come
together every weekend (weather permitting) to enjoy one another.
Beautiful downtown Honolulu.
There is a lot to see just on Oahu, not to mention all the other islands in the chain. And though this long, shaded, fence full of art is free to see, as a tourist attraction, it appeals mostly to those who love art more than the beach. My wife, our son, and I visited the islands more than twenty years ago as we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. I wish we would have known about it at the time. We missed seeing this tourist enterprise. We stayed at the Hilton Hawaiian Village on the north end of Waikiki while the zoo and the art fence is located near the south end of Hawaii's most famous beach. Having taken part in many such "art in the park" type shows such as this over a period of more than forty years, I would loved to have seen the Hawaiian version. In 2019, Lord willing, my wife and I plan to return to the 50th state to celebrate our 50th anniversary. I doubt I'll bring any paintings to display but I might be in the mood to buy one or two, provided they fit in my luggage.

Caution: artists at work.
Artists are encouraged to perform for the crowds.
Those who do, tend to sell more.
Like any such show which has survived and thrived for more than sixty years, this one has rules. It's overseen by a group organized by and made up of the artists themselves. You have to be a member of the group to display and there is a lengthy waiting list, though from time to time, if one of the "regulars" is unable to show, lucky artists on the waiting list get their chance to "show and tell." The rules are relatively few in number, and pretty much what artists normally encounter in entering such shows--stick to your assigned space, watch your work, don't block traffic, no nudes (artists or their art), no dealers, obtain a sales tax license, pay your dues, and don't copy others. Crafts, including T-shirts, bookmarks, trinkets, and three-dimensional work are not allowed. That which is allowed includes paintings, drawings, photographs, and digital artwork, all of which must be signed and ready to hang on a wall.

Artists dress for the tourists, though some hardly dress at all.
Millions of tourists, billions of dollars,
step right this way.
Although we don't often think of painting as a "performing" art, most of us don't live in Hawaii. There, tourism is 24.3% of the state's economy. Thus, from waiters to hula dancer, virtually everyone connecting with the tourism industry performs (above). That includes painters...or at least the ones who want to make a living at it. The zoo fence art scene underlines a vastly different situation than that faced by most art markets. Only a relatively small portion of the chain link fence surrounding the Honolulu Zoo is used to display art. Thus space is limited. The number of artists attracted to the islands, not surprisingly, would seem to be just the opposite. Likewise, in most artist communities, the number of art buyers is often distressingly small. Given the 11.8 million tourist visiting the state in 2014 spending $14.8-billion that's not the case in Hawaii. Therefore, an art market such as that along the zoo's Monsarrat Avenue, and membership space on the limited length of fence, becomes and extremely valuable commodity for the working artists of Oahu as they struggle to cope with the high cost of living on the island. The fence is a pleasant place to sell art, and sales are good, but even so, being an Hawaiian artists is no bowl of poi.

Hawaiian art lovers come in all sizes and shapes.
I'm not sure if she's a happy buyer or seller.




















Meet one of the Zoo Fence artists--
















 

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