Satoru Abe talks about his work "Isami" in Sen. Brian Taniguchi's officeLast year, the Capitol held its first “Art at the Capitol”—an art open house at the Hawai‘i State Legislature. Spearheaded by Sen. Brian Taniguchi, the event was a success and on March 5, 5-7pm, you can once again wander into your legistators’ offices to see the artwork they’ve chosen from the state’s Art in Public Places program.

“We have some outstanding art in the Capitol,” says Sen. Taniguchi. “We wanted to make it more convenient for people to come in and see them all at once, to get the full impact of our collection.” Adds Rep. Isaac Choy, “This is the people’s capitol and the public’s art, after all.” The collection is the result of the 1967 Art in State Buildings Law, which designated one percent of the construction costs of new buildings for the acquisition of works of art, either by commission or purchase. At the same time the state created the Art in Public Places Program, the first of its kind in the nation.

Yesterday the Legislature organized a press preview of Art at the Capitol, which encompasses the offices of 45 senators and representatives, as well as the newly restored Tadashi Sato mosaic “Aquarius.” In Sen. Taniguchi’s office was Satoru Abe, the godfather of Hawai‘i artists. He said that the Art in Public Places Program “changed the whole scene.” He talked about how before the program was established, an artist had to leave Hawai‘i to be able to make art and eat. And he noted that art is as nourishing as a plate of food. “Man cannot live by bread alone. Art is the only sensible thing around.”

In an aside, Abe noted that there are 5,000 works in the collection, representing a reported 1,000 artists. “So that’s an average of 5 works per artist.” But when someone pointed out that the collection includes many more than five Abe pieces, he raised his eyebrow and a finger. “There is the complaint about me—don’t buy Satoru Abe and Tadashi Sato.” It was his way of illustrating how much the Art in Public Places program has helped him.

“I thought if I had the means, I could work isolated—just store the works in my own warehouse,” said Abe. But the reality was that he had to sell art to live and be able to make more art, and through that process realized that “you have to be exposed to improve. I would get stagnant just working on my own. It’s good to be exposed and criticized.”

Legislators get to choose pieces for their offices from the state collection of 5,000 works. Sen. Taniguchi’s selection includes Abe’s painting “Isami.” Abe, 83 (he referred to his mortality more than once), talked about the work (see above), explaining that Isami Doi—the spiritual and aesthetic father of a whole generation of Japanese-American artists that includes Abe—had given him a watercolor self-portrait. In a tribute to Doi, Abe based his work on the watercolor. “I often wondered where he was,” Abe said about the work, ruminating on the black silhouette against a scarlet background.

Going on the Art at the Capitol tour is not only a chance to see art by Hawai‘i’s best artists, it’s also a chance to get insight into the state’s legislators. If you thought politicans were just glad-handing philistines, examining the art might change your mind. Tanigichi has a penchant for Hawai‘i’s “old masters”—along with the Abe painting is Isami Doi’s “Sky Mountain.” A nice curatorial touch on Taniguchi’s part to hang them together.

Rep Blake Oshiro with Mamoru Sato's "'Scape '86-2"

Who knew Rep. Blake Oshiro had such a good eye for contemporary art? Enter his office and you’re greeted by the undulating wood sculpture “Over and Under” by Aaron Padilla (below), who is the Academy’s Assistant Curator of Education and contributor to this blog. Behind Rep. Oshiro’s desk hangs Mamoru Sato’s kinetic wall sculpture ” ‘Scape ’86-2.” Oshiro held up a small fan to demonstrate how the hundreds of tiny aluminum pieces wave like sea grass when there’s a little breeze (see above). Legislators can change out their works regularly, but “I have some that I really love, so I’ve kept them,” says Oshiro. Does he collect art at home? “I have some. But I tend to call them more trinkets than art.” Other selections include works by Dean Okubo, John McQueen and Fred Roster.

"Over and Under" by Aaron Padilla