Star-Bulletin Features

The art <I>you</I> own
Copper Cutout #1 by Satoru Abe

Satoru Abe,
copper sculpture

For 30 years, public money
has been spent to buy public art.
Do you like the choices?

By Nadine Kam
Assistant Features Editor

Maybe you've noticed them at juried art exhibitions -- white cards no bigger than business cards. Those little cards carry a lot of prestige, marking works selected by the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts to become part of the state's collection.

Now, the reaction to those cards is something else. They may range from an enthusiastic "Yeah!" a puzzled "Huh?" or a digusted "Yeech!"

Weigh your tastes against the experts' picks in "Collective Visions 1967-1997."

The exhibition at the Honolulu Academy of Arts marks the 30th anniversary of the Art in Public Places Program. These are the works you see on the grounds of state buildings and hanging in state offices. Obviously, some sculptures, such as Bumpei Akaji's "Ho'olana," outside the University of Hawaii's Hilo campus, cannot be moved and will be represented by photos.

The pieces in the show were curated by academy Director George Ellis and University of Hawai'i Art Gallery Director Tom Klobe, and selected from the more than 4,800 pieces in the state's collection.

Featured are 129 works, including collaborative works, by 131 artists such as Juliette May Fraser (1887-1983), recipient of the State of Hawai'i Order of Distinction for Cultural Leadership in 1978; Tadashi Sato, a recipient of a John Hay Whitney Fellowship; stained glass artist Erica Karawina and internationally renowned Masami Teraoka.

The Shadow of Night by Robert Hamada

Robert Hamada,
hau wood and fiber

SFCA Executive Director Holly Richards said she hopes the show will open eyes to beauty that may be overlooked while rushing about our daily business.

"Anybody who lives with a piece of art may notice that they don't see it after a while. People may not be aware of the art; they may not comment on it, but if it all disappeared, they would miss it.

"It might be the littlest detail, like the trickling of a water fountain that catches your ear."

Hawaii set a national standard in 1967 when it became the first state to adopt a "Percent for Art Law." One percent of construction appropriations for state buildings must be set aside for art.

Ron Yamakawa, manager of the Art in Public Places Program, said, "In the '60s there were a lot of giant buildings going up. People felt we were replacing natural beauty with concrete and we needed something to humanize these institutions."

The first SFCA executive director, Alfred Preis, was instrumental in lobbying the Legislature for the 1 percent law. Preis also started the Acquisition Award, or little-white-card tradition.

"His attitude was, we had to show support for artists by making selections before a show opening," Yamakawa said. "He knew that the best publicity opportunity is the opening, because that's when most of the people who were going to see the show were going to be there."

Preis came under fire in the '70s when an audit criticized the acquisition process. Preis was often the sole judge and jury.

Lei Seller by Shirley Russell

Shirley Russell's oil is one of
the Art in Public Places'
relocatable works

After the audit, Yamakawa said, advisory committees were developed to review shows and make selections from about 60 juried or curated shows a year. Committees for acquisitions and commissioned pieces comprise SFCA members and art consultants who apply as volunteers. Consultants change with every exhibition to avoid accusations of cliquishness or favoritism.

"Because art is so subjective and personal, we're always aware of the possibility for controversy or scandal, so we try to be prepared."

Yamakawa said he knows the SFCA cannot please everyone.

"Artists need to express themselves and are passionate about what they do. We're right there to blame if we don't buy the stuff to validate them."

Because the pieces on view represent the best of the best, Yamakawa said it was often difficult wrangling works away from their state employee "owners" who regard them as status symbols.

"It was a major effort to recall them from display. Most of the time we were taking it away from people who weren't too happy about it," Yamakawa said. "We want them to feel proud, but they get really possessive."

Ultimately, the SFCA's goal is to educate, and exposure to art is a big part of the process. Director Richards said, "I know of legislators who at first wanted pretty pictures, representational art. But their art sense has changed. They're asking for more contemporary, abstract art.

"That's part of our goal, to bring art to people in a way that might challenge them and help them learn from it."

Collective Visions,1967-1997

Dates: Opens today, continuing through Oct. 12
Hours: 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays
Place: Honolulu Academy of Arts, 900 S. Beretania St.
Admission: Free to Hawaii residents with valid identification
Call: 532-8700
Also: "Celebrate the Arts Festival and Family Day" takes place noon to 5 p.m. Sept. 14 at the academy, with more than 20 of Hawaii's top artists giving demonstrations and performances. Free

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