Behind the scenes – putting it all together

When I was first asked if I would consider designing the installation for this year’s Art Maui, not only was I surprised (shocked, really) but somewhat intimidated. Having recently retired after 22 years in the fire department, I looked forward to easing back into my previous life of involvement in the art community, but this would be jumping head first into the biggest, most prestigious juried exhibition on the island, being held at the biggest, most prestigious exhibition space on the island. After thinking about it for about two minutes, I agreed, with the condition that Judy Bruder and I could do it as a team. We had worked together at the Hui No`eau Visual Arts Center in the 1980s and ’90s, being involved in probably over a hundred exhibits and events, including many an Art Maui before the MACC was built. How could I pass up the chance to work with my old friend in the most beautiful gallery and with the best art Maui has to offer?

Learning that only 65 pieces were chosen told us that we had a great opportunity to have an open and spacious exhibit, really showcasing the art as well as the gallery itself. We first met the work on the afternoon of pickup day for unselected works. Although the gallery was still crowded with easels and nearly half of the over 500 submissions, we were able to get up close with the selected work and began to develop our relationship with them. Some spoke loudly, others got to you more subtly. We started by grouping work together that spoke the same language, whether it was by color palette, subject matter, or visual style and energy.

It’s hard to describe what it was like for art addicts like Judy and me to walk into the Schaefer Gallery the next morning. I don’t think either of us had ever seen it wide open like that, unencumbered by walls or pedestals, with 65 wonderful works of art waiting to be molded into Art Maui 2014. Knowing that it was our job, a gift really, to design this installation, I can’t speak for Judy but for me it was like catching the biggest wave of your life: thrilling and terrifying at the same time. But you just dive in and get at it. I can’t really explain how Judy and I work together. It’s a process that was developed over years and many events at the Hui. She points and starts to say something and I’m halfway through the task before she’s finished.

Mother and Child by Steve Turnbull

Mother and Child
by Steve Turnbull

We start by refining those groups we established the first day and moving them across the gallery to various locations and spreading them out, stepping back to get a good look at them. We knew that Steve Turnbull’s driftwood giraffes and Tom Sewell’s video installation would be anchors at opposite ends of the gallery and not moved once placed, so those were positioned early on. Those two pieces were probably the most important pieces from an installation standpoint as I believe they reflect two of the major themes of this year’s show: the natural, physical world and the modern, technology-based world. The rest of the show was somewhat built around those anchors but we were determined that each section or group had its own strength, and that each piece in each section was allowed the space it needed to capture the viewer, to speak with its full voice. Sight lines were continuously scrutinized: what is seen from the entry, from across the room, through the legs of the giraffe? Making sure that the viewer could get far enough back from a large work, creating intimate spaces for smaller work, would we be able to light a particular piece in that location? All this and more played into our creative decision-making process.

Odessa Steps by Tom Sewell

Odessa Steps by Tom Sewell

In the end I think I can say that we are both very proud and thankful that we were able to contribute to such a wonderful show. Really a great showcase for the talent on this island. Special thanks to Devon, Ted, and Mary Ann for their patience during the actual hanging. We were cutting it close and still making changes up to the twelfth hour but they hung in there with a smile. And of course, Ditmar’s lighting was the icing on the cake. Mahalo Art Maui for taking a chance on us, hopefully we can do it again sometime.

Rob Spenser

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