A very small art exhibit has been making its way around the country. Currently in its ninth incarnation, the annual Shoebox Sculpture Exhibition has traveled the nation, inspiring and confounding audiences with how much skill, creativity and meaning can fit inside a regulation shoebox. Now a large portion of the show is coming to Maui—82 of the 121 original sculptures that were collected at the University of Hawaii Art Gallery.
When I visited the exhibit at the MACC, the final showing for this compilation, I found a collection of works connected to one another only by size. There were as many different styles as there were artists, from metal to handmade paper, dehydrated vegetables to human hair. Some pieces spoke in concrete images, others took a more conceptual form. There were a predictably large number of footwear sculptures, though the pieces themselves were anything but predictable—one entry, titled “Riding Roughshod,” was made from actual cattle hoof and a satin ballet slipper.
The idea behind the exhibit, which attracts well-known artists from around the world, is that all the sculptures must fit inside a shoebox. The parameters of the show make it easy to ship shoebox art across the country and out to Hawaii, but the rules also force the artists, many of whom are used to creating large sculptures, to work on a much smaller scale than they’re accustomed to while still creating works of significance.
Ana Theil of Mexico managed to nail the objective. “The Key” makes use of an old book opened to show indistinguishable writings, possibly in German, but although the pages are fragile to the point of decomposition, the power of the message they hold is strong. Looking through a gaping hole in the cover, made of some seemingly impenetrable metal, the viewer sees the opaque shine of glass enclosing a key.
Sitting before each piece is an artist’s card, delivered to give us some sense of how to view their work. Theil’s says, “My sculptures explore the depth of emotions and being, combined with a desire to convey a message of harmony and strength.”
Looking at her piece I felt that some intense, raw human emotion of incredible power must be conveyed on those delicate pages, a message to strong to be held in the confines of the covers.
Other straightforward sculptures—like “Shoes for Imelda” by Glenn Williams, which looked like an ordinary pair of strappy high heels, except they were made of steel and connected eternally by a chain—seemed to satisfy the rules of the exhibit without eliciting much imagery.
Many of the works were conceptual, abstract and made complex or cultural statements. Still others were lighthearted and absurd, like “Life Lessons” by Honolulu’s Frank Sheriff, who created a bronze sculpture of a happy baby covered in toads holding dice, condoms, and baby toads. His card reads, “Moral of story: frogs are okay; it’s the toads you’ve got to watch out for.”
It’s the variety of works in this exhibit that makes a real statement. There’s no limit to what can fit inside a shoebox, and there are as many different representations as there are pieces on display. There’s something in this show for every taste, modern, classic, industrial, abstract, political and everything in between.
It’s proof positive that good things come in small packages. MTW