Review of Hawaiian Artists At American Indian Museum and Transformer Gallery

“This IS Hawai’i” may not be a big show, but as an example of crosstown collaboration, it is a big deal. It’s a two-venue exhibit, occupying not only Transformer Gallery’s Logan Circle area storefront but also the National Museum of the American Indian’s Sealaska Gallery. The show features works from four contemporary native Hawaiian artists, but it feels like — and aspires to be — a much larger survey.

In Washington, dialogue between the local art scene and major museums is rare. Transformer Gallery director Victoria Reis bucks the trend, co-hosting programs with the Phillips Collection, the Hirshhorn Museum and the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

Reis made headlines in November by leading local opposition to the removal of artist David Wojnarowicz’s video from the National Portrait Gallery’s “Hide/Seek” exhibit. With the Hawaii show, she switches from fighting censorship at the Smithsonian to inserting her programming directly into one of its museums.

Independent curator Isabella Hughes turns in an equally impressive performance. Hughes brings together four artists from the island of Oahu, all focused on struggles between indigenous and invasive — but using sharply divergent materials and methods.

At the National Museum of the American Indian, the works of Carl F.K. Pao and Solomon Enos offer opposing relationships to museum culture. Pao presents institutional critique that would make little sense outside a museum setting. Enos is a comics artist, creating works meant to be seen in print by general audiences.