Artwork photos by Hal Lum and Paul Kodama, courtesy of the University of Hawaiʻi Art Gallery.
Art Gallery Director Lisa Yoshihara’s office on the second floor of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa Art Building was dominated by boxes of all shapes and various materials.
The one thing they had in common: all were small, only slightly larger than an ordinary shoebox. “They began trickling in since August, and now we’re getting about 12 a day,” said Yoshihara three days shy of a Thanksgiving 2008 deadline for artists to submit their work for the highly popular International Shoebox Sculpture Exhibition.
Yoshihara is excited despite the clutter. “This is my first Shoebox exhibition as gallery director, but in 1985 I was a student here. I submitted my piece,” she recalls. It was selected for inclusion by the guest jurors, Israeli experimental artist Yaacov Agam, Japanese sculptor Kazuo Kadonaga and abstract American sculptor Jackie Winsor.
The triennial Shoebox event marks its 10th exhibition March 1 through April 9 at the University of Hawaiʻi Art Gallery before going on the road.
The idea of presenting three-dimensional art in such a small format was the brainchild of Department of Art and Art History Professors Fred Roster and Mamoru Sato in collaboration with then gallery Director Tom Klobe.
“It’s challenging getting contemporary sculpture out here because of the cost of shipping,” Sato says.
Mounting large pieces is also a challenge. To bring the work of sculptors from around the world to Hawaiʻi, they devised a show that featured pieces of limited size.
Approached with the idea, Klobe was extremely excited. “Right away I said, ‘Let’s try to make it into a traveling show because there was such a need.’ I sent out 75 letters of inquiry to museums and galleries and received 25 responses. We could only accommodate 10 of those.”
“We were getting work from all over, including from some big name sculptors,” recalls Sato. “We were very pleasantly surprised by the response.”
There were about 100 artists in the first show in 1982, including about 15 foreign artists. By the 8th show, half the entries were international Klobe says.
The founders initially invited a group of outside jurors to Honolulu to select from the submissions. Since the 4th exhibition, the jury has been in-house.
Artists are asked to submit a resume and up to 10 images of their work. The gallery director, Professors Roster and Sato and additional members of the art faculty—this year glass artist Rick Mills and ceramicist Suzanne Wolfe—select the works for the exhibit.
Recent exhibitions have consisted of works by both selected and invited artists. This year’s mix of approximately 140 artists slightly favors the latter category.
Works from founders Sato and Roster will be included along with pieces from other UH faculty members (Gaye Chan, Peter Chamberlain, Mary Babcock, Brad Evan Taylor, Maile Andrade), art lecturer Shigeru Miyamoto and UH alumni.
This year’s group also features international artists such as Bernard Calet of France, Sari Limatta of Finland and Wu Ming of China.
Selected artists work in a variety of media including carved wood, cast metal and blown glass. Past works have included woven fiber, paper maché, found objects, feathers, even human hair.
To mount the ambitious and popular show, Yoshihara draws upon graduate and undergraduate students from her art department course on exhibition design and gallery management and employs work-study students.
“We pride ourselves in that the work we do here is really driven by our students,” she says. Thanks to the Gulab and Indru Watumull Grant for Museum Studies in the Arts, two students gain professional experience as exhibition coordinator and catalogue designer.
After the Mānoa showing, about 80 works from the show will travel to Hilo (May 3 to June 14), and then Seoul; Oxford, Miss.; Ellensburg, Wash.; Carson, Calif.; Baton Rouge, La.; and Murray, Ky. It will be on the road until 2011.
“This show is our calling card because it travels with the name of the University of Hawaiʻi on it,” Yoshihara says.
Previous Shoebox Exhibitions have been presented in museums and galleries in Taiwan, Guam, Japan, Canada, Mexico and throughout the United States.
While many of the works will be offered for sale, they will not be delivered to the buyers until they complete the tour.
Meanwhile Yoshihara will be focusing on number 11. “As soon as this one closes, I’m already collecting submissions for the next one,” she says.