Each time the art changes at Café Marc Aurel in Wailuku the atmosphere transforms a little, too. As soon as I grow accustomed to the shocking, complicated and thought-provoking pieces of one exhibit, a new show arrives, jolting me awake when I wander in for a midmorning cup of coffee.
There’s nothing serene, lovely or ordinary about the art on the walls at Marc Aurel. At least in the traditional sense, the majority of the exhibits there do not blend with Maui’s typical art scene. There are no paintings of humpback whales, peaceful Upcountry pastures or plein air seascapes.
Café co-owner Adrianne Martinez’s desire to put her hands on the pieces of art that really move her inspired “Touchy/Feely,” the theme of this month’s group exhibit. It’s an eclectic collection of two and three-dimensional pieces centered on texture.
Martinez has been dedicated to underground and experimental art on the island since 1999 when she opened and co-owned Wild Banana, an alternative art gallery in Wailuku that has since closed. She loves seeing local artists “thinking outside” and now curates the always edgy and unique shows at the café.
“In the art world there’s a lot of competition and egos, a lot of pretension,” she told me. “I’m trying to inside out the whole system. This is not Art Maui.”
Exhibits are open to anyone and everyone and are not juried. She doesn’t select or reject any particular piece of art; after she decides on a theme, the first 20 artists who submit their work get a place on the wall. Also, every piece of art on display must be for sale and priced $200 or less.
One large installment by Jackie Goring—scattered pieces of red and black fuzzy fabric are placed in no identifiable pattern on a pink background—nearly covers an entire wall and commands attention from pretty much any part of the café. It seems to be the deconstructed pieces of a very unusual-looking skinned cat. The piece looks soft and repulsive at the same time.
On the opposing wall several pieces hang on a background with painted handprints. One titled “Distortion of a Contorted Heart” hangs heavily near the center and features pieces of a broken-down, rusted metal machine of some sort sitting on a bed of dirty sand. A sad love note printed on the back of a postcard is stuck into the sand. It looks cold and the whole thing left me a little uncomfortable and depressed.
A few of the other pieces of art were less complex. “Scratch My Itch” has a prickly-looking, twisted, dirty wire brush and “You Are What You Eat” is a straightforward piece inviting the viewer to peek inside a toilet seat. I lifted the lid gingerly, pondering the nearest place to find soap and hot water to sanitize my hands, then laughed when I saw a reflection of myself looking more than a little scared.
It’s not often that I can put my hands all over a piece of artwork without setting off alarms or seriously pissing off an artist, but Café Marc Aurel’s unique gallery space and Martinez’s unique vision have combined for a show that compels me to reach out and touch some very interesting art. MTW