Honolulu’s most respected fine art and antique dealer, Robyn Buntin of Honolulu Gallery, will close after this Sunday. An artist himself, Buntin developed contacts in Asia and the Pacific and through the late 1980s and 1990s. The gallery was well known on the international circuit of antique art fairs. Now, a new phase is about to begin.
Robyn Buntin of Honolulu Gallery actually started 43 years ago in Kea‘au, when artist Robyn and his wife, Judy, opened Shibui Antiques. The shop, in wooden plantation era storefronts, burned down with most of the rest of Kea‘au in 1978. The Buntin family then moved to Japan, and after they returned to Honolulu, opened a gallery in Eaton Square selling Japanese antiques. In 1992, the gallery moved to lower Maunakea in Chinatown, then, in 2014, to the location on Beretania Street.
“We were known all over the world for our Asian antiques,” says Tusha Buntin, the son and co-owner of Robyn Buntin of Honolulu Gallery. “Chinese jade is one of my specialties, and was one of Robyn’s specialties, and it’s so sad to see that disappearing."
Buntin is talking about a whole world that’s slipped away like the side of a glacier.
“We did shows in New York, Hong Kong, Shanghai, San Francisco. Those antique shows, art shows, are all gone,” says Buntin.
You know what happened.
“Before, this was the perfect platform,” says co-owner Aisha Buntin, daughter of Robyn, “To have a nice big showroom where you could show people around.”
But, the gallery became a place for people to browse for things they would then buy online.
Times have changed. And people have changed. Buntin says young people do not collect as their grandparents did.
“They don’t get the interest or the inkling to buy something to learn about it and then go open a book and study about it," says Tusha. "And so in another five years, those same people will be, Gee, where can I go and get something that will inspire me?”
The Buntins are playing the long game.
Aisha recalls that in 1997 she was doing a financial report on their inventory. She told her father they were overstocked with Chinese jade and to stop buying it. He didn’t listen, and when the Chinese began their economic boom, the Buntins were flush with highly collectible pieces they had acquired over time.
Walking into Robyn Buntin is always a little thrilling. On my right, a case of exquisite Ni‘ihau shell jewelry. Ahead, a Ming dynasty dancer, lacquer over wood, is being offered at half price.
The closing day is this Sunday. After that, Tusha Buntin will be staging homes and selling them for Sotheby’s. Aisha will do paper and art restoration and online sales. Judy and Robyn Buntin moved to Mexico 3 years ago to exercise and relax.
Recently, they opened a small new space, where Aisha says they’ll continue collecting and showing things, sharing stories and making friends. You probably won’t find it online, White Lotus Galleria in San Miguel de Allende.