Artist Wyland at odds with Hawaiian Airlines over preservation of building murals

Editor’s Note: Both sides have reached an agreement. View the full update here.

World-renowned artist Wyland says he’s fighting to protect two large murals he painted back in 1999.

The 35,000-square-foot “Hawaiian Humpbacks” and “New Millennium” murals were painted on the sides of the Airport Center building on Ualena Street.

They were among 100 murals Wyland painted in 17 countries over a 30-year period as part of one of the world’s largest arts-in-public places projects.

Hawaiian Airlines bought the building last May, and says it needs to be renovated.

Both sides want the murals to be repainted once the work is done, but Wyland says the airline is demanding ownership of the new artwork.

“The main problem with the contract by the lawyers is they want me to sign my rights away as an artist. They want me to be work for hire,” he said.

The Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) is a federal law that grants the author the right to prevent any destruction, distortion, mutilation, or other modification of that work.

Wyland says if ownership shifts to Hawaiian Airlines, the mural could potentially be destroyed in the future.

“When my mural at the Ilikai Marina building, and most know it if you’re old enough, was my favorite mural,” Wyland said. “But we couldn’t save it from the developer. They built the Prince hotel and then just sued their way to the end to block it completely and paint it over it. I don’t know. I hope it doesn’t happen here again.

“This isn’t Hawaiian Airlines’ mural. This is the people of Hawaii’s mural, and all the people who come here and appreciate not only the art, but the conservation message behind it,” he added.

Hawaiian Airlines says the contract isn’t about ownership of the art, but rather a liability waiver for the artist’s safety.

“The contract contemplates protection of Wyland, his assistants, and the company if somebody is injured,” said Scott Miyasato, associate general counsel for Hawaiian Airlines.

But when asked if Hawaiian would allow Wyland to keep the rights to the murals, Miyasato admitted, “it’s not something we are willing to put into a contract at this point.”

For the initial murals, Wyland donated his time and services, receiving only logistical support from project partners.

He says the same could apply again should both sides come to an agreement.

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