Abstract Expressionist Artist Satoru Abe Is Making Art in a Luxury Shopping Mall

One of Hawaii's most beloved artists, Abe is 93 and has been churning out 200 pieces a year for nearly all his life.

Luxury Row, the shopping complex where Abe’s show is taking place. Cultural Counsel

The increasingly frictionless dissolve of the barriers between art and commerce is certainly one of the most interesting phenomenons that’s unfolded within this new, turbulent century. When we were children, shopping malls were broad boulevards of simple satisfaction, but the advent of the internet has made them less necessary as retail hubs and more relevant as sites for…anything, conceptual artistic experimentation included. This week, an upscale shopping complex in Honolulu’s Waikiki Beach district called Luxury Row is debuting the art exhibition “Satoru Abe: 72 Years of Creativity,” which will pay homage to the long and prolific career of Abe, who is one of Hawaii’s most celebrated abstract expressionists.

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This isn’t just a static retrospective: Abe himself will be present and making art on-location for much of the summer, which will give patrons the opportunity to get an up-close look at his process. Abe is a living legend in many ways: one of his ornate copper and bronze sculptures can be found outside Aloha Stadium, and his mixed-media work Sunburst is proudly displayed at Honolulu International Airport. Now in his 90s, he can still churn out up to 200 pieces a year and is an accomplished welder and painter. There’s an interesting formal duplicity to Abe’s body of work. Some of his sculpture is harshly geometric and beautiful; two wooden trees appear to be leaning towards each other while also scrabbling at their counterparts. His painting, conversely, is far more ephemeral-feeling. In Two Abstract Figures, two spectral humanoid forms drift towards each other mildly, as though confused.

Art has always been bought, sold and displayed in shopping malls, but it’s interesting to ponder the possibility of someone as revered as Abe sculpting a block of wood next to, say, a Miu Miu outlet. It’s an idea that’s a bit incongruous and that sounds extremely welcome. Abstract Expressionist Artist Satoru Abe Is Making Art in a Luxury Shopping Mall