of an artist
John Young Museum of ArtBy Burl Burlingame
at the University of Hawaii at Manoa
houses precious pieces handed
down by its namesake
CONSIDERING that the University of Hawaii claims to be a center of learning and culture, it's interesting that the first museum on campus just opened this year. Museums are libraries of reality, after all, the places where the actual stuff can inspire viewers.
The John Young Museum of Art is housed in Krauss Hall, a 1931 structure that used to be the Pineapple Research Institute and passed to the university in 1969. It was named after Frederick Krauss, who had been head of the school's Agriculture Extension Service.
It was pretty beat up by that time and in 1988, the university began to restore the structure. Architect Glen Mason designed the feasibility study, and the firm of Urban Works got the contract to design the facility and the gardens, which are an integral part of the structure's ambience.
About this time, artist John Young approached the University about creating a museum. He felt the school needed one, and he had spent a lifetime collecting artifacts. He gave up a starter collection of antique and native art pieces, and worked with the designers on the museum space. It turned out to be Young's last major project -- he died a year before the museum opened in February.
What: The John Young Museum of Art
Where: Krauss Hall, 2500 Dole St., University of Hawaii at Manoa
When: 1 to 4 p.m. Sundays, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays and noon to 3 p.m. Fridays
It's not easy to get to. Krauss Hall is in the campus' Bermuda Triangle, shoehorned between Andrews Amphitheatre and Kuykendall Hall, across the street from the law library. Don't even try to park nearby during week days. Use the lower campus parking structure ($3) and walk across Dole Street. Trying to enter from the east is near-impossible; there's a wall and some dilapidated buildings blocking your way. To the west, there's a driveway loop. The museum is to the left of the Krauss complex if you're in the loop; the rest of the buildings are offices and classrooms.
While there, you're likely to to meet L.B. "Benji" Nerio, curator, who showed us around.
The courtyard garden features a Thai Buddha image that once stood outside Young's Diamond Head home, a water garden designed by Betsy Sakata and a lava rock wall that weeps a waterfall. Nerio is amused that it takes three sets of custodians to tend the yard.
The interior of the L-shaped gallery is strikingly open, a long, swooping space with hardwood floors. "John Young had a lot of input and ideas, and he demanded and got hardwood floors," said Nerio.
Interiors are dotted with exhibitry kiosks, likewise framed with hardwood, the heights also specified by Young. The cases are Plexiglas, and the wall areas near the windows are lined with structural steel beams that support a kind of high-tech shoji door of wood and translucent Plex. The combination of warm wood and cool plastic, past architecture and present design sensibilities, create a kind of timeless harmony.
"The doors are a great touch, inspired, I think," said Nerio.
Architect Lorrin Matsunaga won two awards for Honolulu Urban Works this week from the American Institute of Architects for his renovation design for Krauss. The original architect was Harry Sims Bent, and Krauss Hall is not only the oldest frame building on campus, it's on the Hawaii Register of Historic Places.
Every one of Young's bequests is on display. While Young was a modern, abstract expressionist painter, the works are ancient, battered and in three dimensions. The only modern painting in the museum is one of Young himself, painted by Nathan Oliveira.
"We call it the John Young Museum of Art, otherwise people think it's a museum of Young's own works. It's actually a reflection of his own collection. When he sold his first painting, Young used the money to buy an ancient object from a Waikiki antique store," said Nerio. "He had a tremendous interest in ancient art from his ancestral homeland, China."
Pieces range from Neolithic pottery to Han and Ming Dynasty figures to African tribal art. Also housed in the museum are bequests from Dr. and Mrs. Yong S. Goh of Chinese scroll paintings; 7th-century Korean bronze figures from Ryun Namkoong and family; sculptures from India and Sri Lanka from Gulab and Indru Watumull; plus other works ranging from a 5th-century stoneware flask to a 1998 piece by potter Hideo Okino.
Several koa chairs were contributed by the university, including one originally presented to the Territorial Normal School in 1906, the ancestor of the UH College of Education.
Nerio points out the Plex shoji doors will help in filtering out damaging ultraviolet light, but fortunately, most of the works on display are fairly impervious to UV.
"Stuff is NOT coming in in bushel baskets, but it's a good representative collection," said Nerio. "Young had a wide-ranging interest in these kinds of art, and it inspired him, and will inspire students and scholars as well.
"He traveled a lot and bought what he liked, not to fill holes in his collection. It wasn't like stamp collecting. He liked the tactile feel of these objects, big, gutsy-feely objects. Interesting for a painter."
The installation was performed by the University of Hawaii Art Department and designed by Thomas Klobe with a good sense of traffic flow. There's also a small reading room with an art library donated by Young and Betty Neogi, widow of Pritwish Neogi of the art department.
A security concern is "tagging" of objects by vandals. "Campus security says they're finding tiny graffiti in the most unlikely places," said Nerio.
Unusually, the public museum was not funded from tax dollars, but from surplus funds stockpiled over the years by the university's self-supporting Summer Session.
"Summer Session dean Victor Kobayashi -- he's some sort of genius," marveled Nerio.
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