Saturday, March 15, 2014

Na Manu Nu Oli

The intersection of Bishop & King streets in downtown Honolulu is the core of the city's financial district. At each corner of the intersection is a tall 1960s or 70s-era skyscraper belonging to some giant local bank or insurance company. As was the international custom of that era, each tower sports some abstract art out front. I think this was supposed to demonstrate that the bank was rich and powerful enough to patronize the arts on a grand scale, and forward-thinking enough to pop for the cutting-edge abstract stuff. Some institutions went for internationally famous sculptors, while others preferred to go with prominent local artists. Today's example is one from the latter category.

The tower at 1000 Bishop St. (the former Bishop Trust Company building) is home to Na Manu Nu Oli, a sculpture and fountain by the late Hawaii artist Bumpei Akaji. His Wikipedia bio explains:

In 1943 he joined the United States Army and was sent to Italy with the 100th Battalion of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. He was inspired by the artwork in Florence and received a discharge in Italy. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence and at the Academia de Belle Arti, Brera, in Milan on a Fulbright Scholarship.

That sounds like the plot of a good indie Sundance-friendly action movie. Except that the film industry's still allergic to casting Asian-American actors in leading roles, because apparently they weren't CC'd on the "It's 2014, Guys" memo. So maybe someday.

I don't have a lot to pass along about Na Manu Nu Oli itself; I did run across a recent doctoral dissertation about the sculptor George Tsutakawa (who designed dozens of midcentury fountains, including one that once graced Portland's Lloyd Center mall). The paper mentions Akaji and Na Manu Nu Oli in passing; it seems that it and Tsutakawa's Waiola Fountain arrived around the same time in 1970, and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin's art critic much preferred the Tsutakawa fountain. Na Manu Nu Oli (which translates as "Birds of Glad Tidings") was criticized for its repetitious bird forms and its overly complex system of water jets. He may have had a point about the water jets, but I quite like the bird forms, repetitious or not.

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