By Burl Burlingame
ART has always been double-barreled, at the least the kind of fine art that exists in the mind's eye with a big capital "A."
Academics call it "formal," which means that the object exists just because it's attractive or interesting, and "cognitive," which means that it resonates with hidden, deep, universal meaning.
Keep that in mind next time you run across some bizarre conglomeration next to a public structure, and your automatic first reaction is, "What the heck is that?"
It must be Art!
The 1967 Hawaii law that sets aside 1 per cent of public construction appropriations for art has led, through the years, to quite a collection. Lots of that is on the University of Hawaii-Manoa campus. The campus also has a fair amount of art put up before 1967, when art was created because it felt good to do so, not because the law insisted you do so.
The University Relations office recently published a guide to the art on campus, in the model of a guide to campus plants published seven years ago. "It was the logical next thing," said University Relations Interim Director Jim Manke, explaining that his office gets a fair number of queries on the campus' art collection.
This flyer was edited by that office's Donne Florence, who said that "the plant tour was so popular that we began researching the art works on campus. People see only one or two pieces as they drive by and they don't know about all the other nice pieces on campus."
Serendipity struck when art instructor Laura Ruby walked in the door last year and said that she'd had her students researching the art works as well.
"Laura had the idea and the route for a walking tour, and she had 80 percent of the information," said Florence. "But to fill in that remaining 20 percent took more detective work than we thought it would. Luckily, Laura and I are both Nancy Drew fans."
"Since I taught art, people assumed I knew all about the art works on campus, and they kept asking me about them," said Ruby. "But I didn't know, and it turned out no one knew. So about three years ago it became a class project for students to research campus art works."
The chance meeting of Florence and Ruby "couldn't have worked out better," said Ruby. Their finished flyer takes the form of a campus walking tour, with maps and information on the major pieces on campus.
The tour, taken at a leisurely pace that allows ample opportunity to closely inspect and appreciate the artwork, takes about five and a half hours, including a lunch break. "But if you power through it and not take any of the detours, you can do it within a couple of hours," said Florence.
The distance isn't great, about two and half miles, but most of it is on stairs and concrete, and on a midsummer day, quite hot. The campus, fortunately, is chockablock with shady benches, water fountains, soda machines and restrooms.
It begins in Bachman Hall, that sprawling structure at the Diamond Head-mauka corner of University Avenue and Dole Street. Inside is a 1949 Jean Charlot fresco, "The Relation of Man and Nature in Old Hawai'i," showing a Hawaiian imu being prepared while Captain Cook's ship looms eerily on the horizon. The relation of nature to this fresco is that sunlight has faded it; another Charlot fresco right above it, "Commencement" (1953), has fared somewhat better.
Out the door and into the street, and there's the Founder's Gate (Ralph Fishbourne, 1933), which has benches molded in and ragged stumps on top where electric lights used to be.
In the courtyard of the music building is "Sumotori," (Greg Clurman, 1975), which seems to be an ode to the Pillsbury doughboy, and is missing its identification plaque, and in front of Orvis Auditorium, a bone-dry "reflecting pool" surmounted by copper and iron musical instruments (Edward Brownlee, 1962), and a sadly abused ceramic planter (Suzi Pleyte Horan, 1976) that is missing tiles, and is fading and dirty.
Only a few steps into the tour, a theme emerges: While the state may be buying art, it's not maintaining it. Virtually all of the outdoor pieces were in stages of disrepair -- from neglect to vandalism. "As near as we can tell, no one is responsible for maintaining the art pieces," said Florence. "It's a wonderful collection that belongs to everybody, but nobody takes care of it."
Ruby said that their next project is to restore signage on all the campus art work. "We also have a running script of the condition of each piece."
Down the corner, 'round the bend, is George Segal's 1991 "Chance Meeting," three grim, cast-bronze people that look like "X-Files" extras. They're in such a tight grouping that the act of getting close enough to see their faces feels like a violation of personal space.
The nearby law school library has three large murals by Frank M. Moore, originally created in 1919 for the Blaisdell Hotel, that are soothingly atmospheric, plus an engaging cranky mural about pig cooking (Mataumu Toelupe Alisa, 1977). A brass bas relief mentioned on the guide wasn't found.
Prepare to be confused as you descend into the warren of sports complex structures. All those cloned UH mice couldn't find their way out of that maze.
A Bumpei Akagi piece, 1981's "Mana'o'i'o," is unfortunately backed into a corner next to Cooke Field, and can only be viewed from one side. "That one was moved from somewhere else and I don't believe any artists were consulted on placing it," said Ruby, explaining that the space around a piece is as essential as the piece itself.
The water garden in Krauss Hall is supposed to be the next attraction, but the recently restored building is also interesting. Watch for "PRI," for Pineapple Research Institute, woven into the building's architectural fabric. Opening soon there, a gallery devoted to John Young's works.
At Kuykendall Plaza is another dry and shattered fountain, with half the pieces broken off at the root, designed by Isami Enomoto in 1964. At Sakamaki Hall, there's a ceramic tile mural (Shige Yamada, 1977) in glassy volcanic hues that are dark and subtle. Then just around the corner, is "Gate of Hope" (Alexander Liberman, 1972), the most obvious piece on the campus, giant steel orange rings tumbling skyward. They are the same color as the campus' industrial riding lawn mowers. Coincidence?
It's easy to pass over "Divers" (Robert Stackhouse, 1991), in front of the new Marine Sciences building, because it's flush with the ground like the atomic-flash shadow of a Viking logboat. ("It will probably be moved," said Ruby.)
The East-West Center has three-dimensional frescos in each stairwell that appear to be muddy relief maps of the Western Front, and above these, more Charlot frescos. Out in the back yard is a swell garden and a teahouse, and mauka, a "Thai Pavilion" that, frankly, looks like the world's nicest bus stop. A bit farther up the street, another Bumpei Akagi piece in the lawn of the Biomedical Sciences building.
We're halfway through, and hot and tired and cranky. By sheer chance, this point crosses the Plantation Palms cafeteria, where cranky art patrons can carbo-load.
The rest comes in a blur, thanks, no doubt, to a meal of fried mozzarella. Staring at the lovely giant mural of a butterfly (Robert Flint, 1986) on the outside of Gilmore Hall, we churlishly wonder why the architect hid the front door of the building.
Hamilton Library, across Maile Way, is home to a simple and dignified Yvonne Cheung batik in the lobby, a giant pastel rendering of government documents (Judith Yamauchi, 1982), a well-hidden rainbow-like woven piece (Reiko Brandon, 1977), and a cheerful Mayan warrior by Jean Charlot that -- surprise! -- nods toward the Jean Charlot collection room.
Another theme emerges: Without Charlot or Akaji, this would be a much shorter tour. "It's very revealing that certain artists have so many repeat commissions," said Ruby.
Guarding the outside entrance is "Epitaph," a scary 1970 piece by Harold Tovish that belongs on the cover of a Clive Barker horror novel. Just the thing to stare at during finals week.
Bilger Hall contains four frescoes by four artists, all painted between 1951 and 1953, covering the four elements of earth, air, fire and water, and all are in pretty rocky shape. The Physical Science Building has a giant mural of crack seed jars that was painted in 1981, but because it faces directly into the setting sun, began to fade almost immediately.
Closing in on the center of campus, there's Tony Smith's gigantic "The Fourth Sign" (1976), that sprawls in the Art Building lawn like an paper-clip twisted by the gods, and another dry fountain in Varney Circle created by Henry H. Rempel and Cornelia McIntyre in 1934. None of the works that originally had flowing water had water flowing.
The new student services building has works commemorating the Varsity Victory Volunteers, including, front and center, a Bumpei Akaji.
The business building is uphill, where a heroic celebration of giant round Yap money (we can't make up stuff like this) commands the courtyard, and a mural that resembles hydrogen molecules is in the lobby.
The Campus Center has another bulky Clurman piece poised in the entrance; "Hina o na Lani" like a Neolithic blow-up doll. The center also has a couple of murals, gang-painted by students, one of which is commanded by a scowling lady with giant scary hands. Below is a "Peace Pole" with requests for peace in English, Tagalog, Hawaiian and Japanese. No other languages? This means war!
One more and we can call it a day. But no matter how much we search Sinclair Library for Satoru Abe's "Adam (1954), we can't find him. A librarian finally tells us the piece is on loan to the Honolulu Academy of Arts.
The art walk through the university turns out to be interesting and informative, but don't expect to do it in a couple of hours. "It's our small contribution to the cultural legacy of the community," said Ruby. "Wear sensible shoes."
On the heels of artWhat: Campus Art guide
Where: Available at University of Hawaii Manoa Publication Office, Bachman Annex #6, and at the Campus Center visitor information window