News reports of the painter Wyland and Hawaiian Airlines reaching a deal to preserve two giant murals on the carrier’s building near Honolulu’s international airport is a victory for both parties.

It’s also a signal to city and community leaders that we should work to not only preserve significant works of art on view to everyone, but that we should have more of them.

Honolulu, whose favorite color scheme is blandly beige, could do with more robust displays of creativity to liven up boring cityscapes and provoke thought and wonder.

Look no further than Kakaako, the city’s hottest neighborhood and one graced with plenty of splashy and vibrant walls and an annual mural contest to boot. It’s a refreshing change for an area mostly known for drab auto body shops and warehouses.

First, the backstory.

Ualena Street building Wyland mural painting near Airport.

The Ewa side of Hawaiian Airlines building on Ualena Street.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Last week, Wyland, born Robert Wyland and known for his large whaling walls and other seascapes, raised a stink when Hawaiian Airlines told him that it would paint over the murals depicting breaching humpbacks on the Diamond Head side of the carrier’s Airport Center building on Ualena Street, and a whale and Diamond Head on the Ewa side.

The company said it needs to do repair work on the structure. While Hawaiian Airlines certainly has the right to do repairs on its own property, Wyland said the company did not have the right to destroy his work

The murals, painted in 1999, represent a rare lovely picture to drivers along grim Nimitz Highway, including many a tourist traveling to and from Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.

But they are fading and could sure use retouching. 

There’s A Law For That

In arguing his case, Wyland pointed to the federal Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990.

The landmark legislation gives authorship of visual art to the artists to do the following:

“prevent any intentional distortion, mutilation, or other modification of that work which would be prejudicial to his or her honor or reputation, and any intentional distortion, mutilation, or modification of that work is a violation of that right, and to prevent any destruction of a work of recognized stature, and any intentional or grossly negligent destruction of that work is a violation of that right.”

The Wyland case is not going to court, so we don’t know whether he would have withstood legal scrutiny. But we agree with the spirit of the law.

Not all of Wyland’s giant work has survived.

Longtime locals fondly remember the whale wall mural painted on the Ewa side of the Ilikai Marina Hotel next to Kaiser Hospital Waikiki.

The hospital was torn down to make room for the Hawaii Prince Hotel, and with it went one of the few appealing places in the tourism mecca prior to its multi-million-dollar makeover in subsequent years.

Fortunately, Wyland has agreed to restore the murals in question, and Hawaiian says it’s looking for ways to help him — setting up scaffolding, hiring operators for the equipment and coordinating with tenants and neighboring properties.

Ualena Street building Wyland Whale mural painting.

Whales breaching on the Diamond Head side of the Hawaiian Airlines building.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

It’s not just huge outdoor murals that deserve our support. Statues are also a tourist attraction (and as best as we can tell, Hawaii has none of Gen. Robert E. Lee).

Think how many times you’ve seen people, for example, posing with the Queen Liliuokalani statute between the Hawaii State Capitol and Iolani Palace, or the Duke Kahanamoku statue in Waikiki. 

The Hawaii Convention Center is also home to excellent statutes, paintings and mural. 

These artworks honor Hawaiian history and make for great Instagram and Facebook posts.

Let’s have art in public places that at least aspire to the natural beauty of these islands. And let’s encourage artists, city officials and businesses to work together toward that goal.

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