Glenn Wharton spoke at the Indigenous Arts in Transition Seminar on Wednesday, April 9, 2014. His talk is entitled “The Painted King: Art, Activism, and Authenticity in Hawai’i.”

The participatory conservation of the Kamehameha I sculpture shows how conservation can engage community in negotiating the meaning of material heritage, while affecting how the past is represented. In his talk at the BGC, Wharton will discuss his three-year collaboration with residents in a semi-rural Hawaiian community to research the material and social history of the sculpture, leading to a community decision about how to conserve it. The Kamehameha I sculpture was commissioned in 1878 to commemorate Captain Cook’s “discovery” of the Hawaiian Islands and promote a western style monarchy. Modeled in the image of a Roman emperor while wearing highly symbolic feathered garments, the figure has come to function as a spiritual, economic, educational, cultural, and political object. The participatory project aimed not only to conserve the painted brass sculpture, but also to enable a process of local control over narratives of the Native Hawaiian past. As a community outsider, Wharton shared the results from his technical studies and archival research with residents to assist in their process of deliberation. His ethnographic research reveals tensions that exist within the multicultural, post-plantation community, as local residents voiced notions of what it means to be Hawaiian and what stories should be told about the Native Hawaiian past.

Glenn Wharton is Clinical Associate Professor of Museum Studies at New York University. Prior to his current position, he was Time-Based Media Conservator at the Museum of Modern Art (2007-2013), Research Scholar in Museum Studies at New York University (2003-2013), Founding Executive Director of the International Network for the Conservation of Contemporary Art - North America (2006-2010), and Director of Conservation at the Japanese Institute for Anatolian Archaeology (1991-2004). Wharton received his BA in Art History and Combined Social Sciences from the University of California, Santa Barbara, his MA in Art Conservation from the State University College of New York Cooperstown, and his PhD in Conservation/Archaeology from the Institute of Archaeology, University College London. His primary research interests include conservation of cultural materials with specialization in contemporary art and archaeology, public participation in conservation, and history and philosophy of conservation. Wharton has published extensively in these areas, including the following book-length publications: The Painted King: Art, Activism, & Authenticity in Hawai’i (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2012); Inside Installations: Theory and Practice in the Care of Complex Artworks, co-editor, Tatja Scholte (Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam Press, 2011); and Guide to the Maintenance of Outdoor Sculpture, co-author, Virginia Norton Naudé (Washington, D.C.: American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works, 1993).