Hawai‘i’s Arts Infrastructure: UH Mānoa Galleries And Museum In Transition

Sep 17, 2019

Continuing our look at Hawai‘i’s arts infrastructure, there are changes at UH Mānoa.  Three key exhibition spaces on campus are under new leadership, and after 13 years, the Art Department has a new chairperson as well.

Juvana Soliven. Utilities. Leather, velvet, copper, brass, glass enamel, rubber, found toys.
Credit Noe Tanigawa / Hawai'i Public Radio

The UH Manoa Art Gallery is featuring work by Christopher Edwards, Maya Portner, and Juvana Soliven.

ATTRIBUTE (at·​tri·​bute | \ˈa-trə-ˌbyüt) : EDWARDS + PORTNER + SOLIVEN
September 3 - October 18, 2019
The Art Gallery (Curated by Gaye Chan)

(L) Professor of photography Gaye Chan has wrapped up a 13 year stint as Chair of the UH Manoa Art Department and is getting back into the classroom. Maika Pollack (R) is the new Director of UH Manoa Art galleries and the John Young Museum.
Credit Maika Pollack

At the John Young Museum, rarely seen works by seminal Honolulu photographer, Francis Haar.

September 15 - December 6, 2019
John Young Museum of Art

Sunday, October 6, 2:00 - 3:00 p.m., Architecture and Urban Change in Honolulu’s ‘A‘ala neighborhood  Panel Discussion with DeSoto Brown, William Chapman and Ross Stephenson.

Sunday, October 20, 2:00 - 3:00 p.m., Special Tour for Photographers - led by Gaye Chan and Maika Pollack with the Analog Sunshine Recorders (open to the general public).

Things are going well so far this semester at UH Mānoa Art Department.  Professor Gaye Chan is back in the classroom after thirteen years as Art Department Chair.  She’s heartened by response to her packed Intro to Photography class.

“They’re thrilled! I don’t have to explain why we’re doing film chemistry.  Before they used to say, “Whyyy? I just want to do digital.”  Now there’s this incredible enthusiasm.”

Chan says art degree requirements have been revamped to correspond with other departments, making graduation more of a 4-5 year process, rather than the 7-8 years of the past. Of course, artists have reasons for not wanting to leave their campus studios. Still, the art department is producing the same number of graduates, and recent student shows have been outstanding. Chan says art classes are in high demand, forcing the department to open up more classes, and many classes have waiting lists this semester.

Francis Haar. Black and white silver gelatin print from the exhibition, Disappearing Honolulu, on view at the John Young Museum on the UH Mānoa campus through December 6, 2019.
Credit Noe Tanigawa / Hawai'i Public Radio

“While we have about 300 majors, we have thousands of non-majors in our building. In my class, its one out of 18 that’s an art major. All the other students are taking it just because they want to.”

Chan is happy to be back in the classroom, and expects a smooth stransition with Professor of Chinese art history Kate Lingley taking the helm of the UH Art Department.  There is also a new director for the Art Department’s Main and Commons galleries and the John Young Museum. Maika Pollack opened her Brooklyn gallery, SOUTHFIRST, in 2000, when the area was just taking off.

“It was a wonderful community in which to have a gallery,” says Pollack.  “I found myself part of a much larger group of artists, and writers, and curators and people operating exhibition venues.  Everything was very DIY and it was a lot of fun, I have to say.”

Pollack has also written for the New York Times, Artforum, ARTNews, the New York Observer, Interview, and other publications.

“Being part of that scene, and being an active member and participant was something important to me,” says Pollack. “So putting forward exhibitions, reviewing other people’s exhibitions, going to see shows, doing interviews with artists, yeah, just being a citizen in that world! I look forward to exploring Hawai‘i and hopefully taking up an active role here.”

Some of Francis Haar’s black and white silver gelatin prints are paired with contemporary images in the exhibition, Disappearing Honolulu, on view at the John Young Museum on the UH Mānoa campus through December 6, 2019.
Credit Noe Tanigawa / Hawai'i Public Radio

In the extended interview, Pollack reflects on her early days discovering galleries in NYC’s Soho, picking her way through art spaces with a photocopied map.  Her gallery, SOUTHFIRST opened in October 2000 and closed in February 2018 when the building was sold.  Pollack worked with contemporary artists, but focused on bringing underappreciated art from the 1960’s and 70’s to a new audience, and into public collections. Her PhD in art history focused on late 19th century French artist Odilon Redon, and his use of color.

Pollack points to the roles of artists, curators, gallery owners, writers, collectors, and viewers as integral parts of any arts infrastructure.

“One thing that always annoys me is that people don’t argue,” says Chan, “One of the funnest things is you go to a show and it’s like, "How can you like that piece? It’s terrible!" And so you get into arguments and you learn from each other.  I think people are generally too polite.”

Maya Portner. Survey of the assembled attributes of the tower crane, (in stitches). Digital embroidery, hand cut and pinned. Part of the Attribute exhibition curated by Gaye Chan at the UH Manoa Main Gallery through October 18, 2019.
Credit Noe Tanigawa / Hawai'i Public Radio

“This is something I feel very deeply,” Pollack responds. “That we as a culture have lost our ability to listen to one another, and disagree, and have that conversation. I think the esthetic sphere gives us a space in which to practice that skill to say, “I think this is good,” and you’re saying that as a truth claim, but not one that has an absolute basis. So you’re forced to accept someone else’s position that they think it’s bad---and to have a civil conversation. Art gives us a realm in which to practice what it might be like to have a society with multiple points of view.”

Imagine. Agree or not, great art spaces create community.