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Lee Cataluna

Happy ending for display at Contemporary Museum

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It is not the most well-known spot in Honolulu, but if you’ve visited the Hockney exhibit, you’d never forget it.

In an out-building on the lush grounds of the Spalding House, otherwise known as the Contemporary Museum, an enchanted forest covers the walls. A squadron of boys with bat wings is painted on one wall. Low wooden benches shaped like magic beans cover the floor. A dog lies with one wary eye open near a fireplace, and a brooding apple tree rises up from the carpet. An opera plays in the darkened room and it is beautiful and overwhelming and yes, creepy. It is one of the few experiences in Ho­no­lulu where you can walk into the art.

When the merger of the Contemporary Museum with the Honolulu Academy of Arts was announced, I could not have been the only person who thought first about those enchanted bat boys and their glorious apple tree. Visitors to the art museum in Makiki have marveled at the childlike swooshes of paint, kissed in the dark on the spotted beans and comforted freaked-out children in the Hockney exhibit for years. The installation, L’Enfant et les Sortilèges ("The Child and the Spells"), has been closed for more than a year due to weather damage to the little building. Would the repair work be left behind, eventually another casualty to the economy?

Not to worry. It’s all good news.

L’Enfant et les Sortilèges is an installation by world renowned artist David Hockney, who did the design for a production of the Ravel opera in 1981. In 1983, it was a real coup for the Contemporary Museum when the installation was secured as a permanent piece of the collection.

There are many layers to the opera, but the basic story is that a naughty little boy works himself into a snit and breaks his stuff. A story book, a tea set and his math homework are among the items he damages during his tantrum. Then, while he is locked in his room, his toys come to life and an enchanted forest grows around him. All the things he broke come back to get their revenge. In the ensuing melee, a little squirrel is hurt, and when the boy tries to help the injured squirrel, all the animals and animated toys see that there is goodness in the child, and he is forgiven for his prior bad acts.

"Under the gift agreement, the Makiki campus — we are referring to it as Spalding House — will remain open with contemporary art programming through 2011. At that time, our new director, Stephan Jost, may decide to broaden the type of art put on view there," said Lesa Griffith, director of communications for the Honolulu Academy of Arts. More good news: The Contemporary Café and gift shop, respectively one of the best places to lunch and one of the coolest boutiques for Christmas presents, will also remain open for business.

So if you haven’t yet been enchanted by the naughty child and the boys with bat wings, you still have a chance.


Lee Cataluna can be reached at

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