We’ve managed to take a couple of days off next week and as is our wont, we’ll be making a bee-line for Honolulu. Rest for us always involves a stay at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, where all that’s required is to stagger from our room, out to the Royal’s beach, and then, if the mood takes us, to the Mai Tai Bar for refreshment.
Not completely inert, though, we always make a point of visiting the Honolulu Academy of Arts, in my opinion one of the best survey art museums of its size anywhere in the world. A Mecca for world art, particularly from Asia, it has fantastic European and American fine and decorative arts collections, as well, including wonderful 20th century pieces. On our last visit in late November last year, we were thrilled to see the exhibit curated by architect Dean Sakamoto and devoted to the late Vladimir Ossipoff, arguably Hawaii’s premier architect. Trained in the early 1930′s at the University of California in the Beaux Arts tradition that yielded such leading lights as Julia Morgan, Ossipoff adapted his style over the years, particularly in his residential commissions in Honolulu. As the exhibition makes manifest, Ossipoff emerged from an academic Vitruvianism in his effort to seek and refine a Hawaiian vernacular for the 20th century, and, in the process, designing some remarkable homes. As it has been 10 years since his death, the Ossipoff exhibition might be considered overdue. It is my view that it is well timed, in that, nearly a generation after the completion of what are arguably his most important commissions in the 1950′s and 1960′s, it’s worth looking at how well these buildings, stylistically, have held up. Pardon the cliché, but good design possesses a timelessness that, naturally, cannot be assessed without the passing of sufficient time.
Speaking of timelessness, the buildings of the Honolulu Academy of Arts are very much worth a look. Designed by New York architect Bertram Goodhue and completed in 1927, the museum’s original corpus consists of a series of white stucco and double pitch tile roofed pavilions linked with walkways and courtyards- including one of the most astoundingly beautiful small gardens I’ve ever seen. Given Ossipoff’s close association with the Academy, he was doubtless both impressed and influenced by this building, and it’s worth considering to what extent the Academy buildings formed at least part of the matrix upon which was built, for a number of architects, the rudiments of a Hawaiian vernacular style.