Grand Wailea Art: It’s in Their DNA

Before we arrived at the Grand Wailea Resort in Maui, I had heard that the resort housed an impressive art collection and that they also offered a range of artistic activities and programs. But from the first steps into the lobby, I felt that there was much more to Grand Wailea art than I had imagined.

In the DNA

Japanese developer and original owner of Grand Wailea, Takeshi Sekiguchi, envisioned the resort as an open-air art museum for guests as well as the Maui community. Art was one of the key elements of the original design, which included light, water, flowers, trees, sound and art — each aspect is integrated throughout areas of the resort.

Many fine hotels and resorts display works of art to complement their décor, symbolize their brand and catch the eye of guests. But most of these have done this as part of the interior design of the hotel. However, as Grand Wailea’s Managing Director Matt Bailey described, at the Grand Wailea, “Art is in our DNA”. Here are some of the highlights of our art tour with Grand Wailea spokesperson, Christina Yumul.

A Signature Collection

Nine bronze cast sculptures by Colombian artist Fernando Botero are centerpieces of the collection. These impressive large bronze sculptures surround the Botero Bar in the lobby. The sculpture below, Mother and Child, shows an earth mother holding a child, but the child is really an adult man and she is also standing on a full-size adult man.

"Mother and Child sculpture by Fernando Botero at the Grand Wailea in Maui - "Art in the DNA"

Mother and Child, Fernando Botero

The Botero Sculpture of a woman lying on her stomach smoking a cigarette (pictured below) is the largest in the collection and one of the most valuable sculptures in Hawaii. The Boteros were purchased for $40K/each when they were commissioned in 1989. To speculate on what they might be worth now, a white marble version of Woman Smoking a Cigarette went for $1.6 million in 2007.

"Woman Smoking a Cigarette sculpture near the Botero Bar at Grand Waila, Maui"

Woman Smoking a Cigarette, Fernando Botero

Sekiguchi’s objective was also to make the art accessible to all who visited, so you won’t find roped-off or glass-enclosed exhibits. While refreshing, this unusual accessibility occasionally creates situations to make curators nervous. Christina said that when Michael Gilbert, curator of the Grand Wailea’s collection, got very concerned when he saw children climbing on a million dollar statue, Sekiguchi had reassured him by saying that was the point of the accessibility.

The Spirit of Hawaiian Culture

"King Kamehameha sculpture at Grand Wailea"

King Kamehameha, Herb Kawainui Kane

Many of the works at Grand Wailea represent the spirit of Hawaiian culture. Outside at the entrance of the Grand Wailea is one of only five major statues of King Kamehameha I who unified Hawaii and created the Kingdom of Hawaii in 1810. The statue was done by Herb Kawainui Kāne, an important artist and historian and one of the key people in the Second Hawaiian Renaissance in the 1970’s. He also was key to establishing that Hawaii was initially populated with Polynesians who went back and forth between Hawaii and Tahiti in canoes rather than as a result of a one-time accidental landing. Herb Kāne also has many other sculptures at the Grand Wailea. Unique about this sculpture was that there was a concerted effort to make it as realistic as possible. According to Christina, it is the only one of the statues that represents Kamehameha I’s features as Hawaiian rather than Aryan. The statue also uniquely portrays his height as 7 feet. In an effort to be accurate, that height was calculated from the length of his actual cape and pictures of him in the cape.

"Maui Captures the Sun by Shige Yamada stands in the center of the Grand Wailea's formal dining room"

Maui Captures the Sun, Shige Yamada

Maui Captures the Sun by Shige Yamada is positioned at the entrance of the hotel’s formal dining room. Christina described the story it tells of the demi-god Maui slowing the sun for his mother so that she could get more work done while it was still light. It is positioned so that the rays of the sun on the vernal equinox (I believe) pass directly through the fiery circle of the statue.

"Three Male Hula Dancers, sculpture by Jan Fisher at Grand Wailea, Maui"

Three Male Hula Dancers, Jan Fisher

Jan Fisher’s Three Male Hula Dancers is complemented by another sculpture on the property, Three Female Hula Dancers as well as other bronzes of Polynesian men and women throughout the resort.

Art with a History

"Sculpture in corridor of Grand Wailea in Maui -- La Branch, Fernand Léger"

La Branche, Fernand Léger

18 bronze sculptures created by French cubist Fernand Léger are also core pieces in the collection and according to Michael Gilbert are probably the most historically significant. La Branche was created in tribute to philanthropist Abby Rockefeller who commissioned him to do some paintings when he first came to the United States from Europe, the start of his lucrative career.

Art and Water

"Gathering of Dolphis sculpture by Edward Brownlee in the Refelcting Pool at Grand Wailea, Maui"

Nai’a Kauhulu (Gathering of Dolphins), Edward Brownlee

The first thing I heard in the mornings when I awoke and the last before I fell asleep was the sound of the ocean, waves gently lapping at the shore. In fact, Grand Wailea was designed so that water is heard everywhere throughout the resort. No matter where you are, you will hear water from the ocean, the fountains or the babbling brooks — part of the DNA. As such, many of the works are found around and in the water, including Herb Kane’s Child Mermaid with Shell at Humuhumunukunukuapua’a (Hawaiian for pig-snouted triggerfish, the state fish of Hawaii) Restaurant.

"Mermaid in water next to Humuhumunukunukuapua'a Restaurant at Grand Wailea restaurant, Maui"

Mermaid at Humuhumunukunukuapua’a Restaurant

The painting below, Water, is by artist Zhou Ling whose other paintings in the resort include Hawaiian Aloha, Moon, and Fire.

"Water, a painting by Zhou Ling in the Grand Wailea art collection"

Water, Zhou Ling

Koi as Art

As water is one of the key integrated design elements of Grand Wailea, the exquisite koi in the Grand Wailea’s ponds are works of living art in themselves. I learned that koi are collected as art and a single fish can sell for as much as $50,000.

"Koi swimming in poind at Japanese Tea House, themselves part of Grand Wailea art"

Koi pond at Japanese Tea House

The Art of Glass

Each of the stained glass panels by Yvonne Cheng in the chapel at Grand Wailea depict different aspects of Hawaiian life. Three Murano glass chandeliers in 17th century French design also adorn the chapel. One is visible in the photo below.

"The stained glass panels by Yvonne Cheng in the chapel at Grand Wailea tell stories of Hawaiian culture"

Stained glass panels in the chapel, Yvonne Cheng

And the exquisite glass collection continues in the NaPua Gallery where renowned artist Dale Chihuly’s Ocean Waves compels you to step inside. Made of 135 pieces of hand-blown multi-colored glass, it represents the oceans of the world. The gallery has a library room where art enthusiasts can relax and peruse a wide collection of art books.

"Blue glass Dale Chihuly chandelier at entrace of NaPua Gallery at Grand Wailea, Maui"

Dale Chihuly chandelier at NaPua Gallery


As you stroll along the meandering path among the palm trees and tropical flowers, you may also come across some unexpected art such as this sculpture by Jan Fisher of a half man and half boar creature purposely hidden among the flora so it seems real. I won’t tell you the location so you can be surprised, too.

"Sculpture by Jan Fisher on the grounds of the Grand Wailea depicting a half man, half boar hidden among the flora"

Sculpture by Jan Fisher

Building as Art

Sekiguchi was also influential in other hotel features, such as deciding to have the main shape of the main hotel structure to be that of a turtle emerging from the sea. Seen from the air, you can make out the shape of a turtle — the intended effect is that the turtle has emerged from the ocean and headed toward Hana, represented by rocks and a waterfall at the hotel entrance.

Art is everywhere at the Grand Wailea from the major overall design of the building and grounds to the individual works of art in the collection, many of them capturing the essence of the Hawaiian spirit.

If you go:

A complimentary tour of the Art Collection is available to the public on Tuesdays and Fridays at 10 am at NaPua Gallery. There is also an Artists in Residence program in the lobby on Tuesdays and Fridays from 9-2 when selected artists display and sell their works.

For more information: Grand Wailea, A Waldorf Astoria Resort

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42 thoughts on “Grand Wailea Art: It’s in Their DNA

    1. Cathy Post author

      The King Kamehameha is really impressive, even more so after learning more about the statue and Hawaiian history.

    1. Cathy Post author

      I’ve always been impressed with Dale Chihuly’s work whether in person (at the Bellagio) of other pieces I’ve seen in photos. Brilliant artist.

  1. Sarah Lee

    Wow – have never seen such an impressive art collection at a hotel before. I love Botero’s rounded ladies and La Branche. Really lovely.

  2. Andrea

    Such a fab hotel! We walked through here after a luau at the nearby Marriott one night and I swore we would stay here if we ever made it back to Maui

    1. Cathy Post author

      I highly recommend a stay there. Everything I experienced was first-rate. Great for lots of activities or just a little R&R.

  3. Marcia

    What an eclectic collection, Cathy. I love commercial establishments that incorporate fine art in their environments. It not only transforms, it humanizes what sometimes can be a plan decor and makes for a very memorable experience.

    I’d love to hear the pronunciation of the name of that restaurant. Quite the mouthful, isn’t it? Thanks for sharing.

    1. Cathy Post author

      Isn’t that an awesome name for a fish — and an important one at that — being that it is the state fish of Hawaii.

  4. Mary {The World Is A Book}

    I love all this art collection in the hotel. We’ve passed by the Grand Wailea and have always been curious with what it’s inside. What a great collection but I’m especially drawn to the Hawaiian ones and that stained glass window. We may stop by next time just to eat at Humuhumunukunukuapua’a Restaurant and try to pronounce it 🙂

    1. Cathy Post author

      I’ve heard it said and it sounds beautiful. I’m afraid I don’t have the knack yet, but will keep trying. In the meantime “Humuhumu” is acceptable. 🙂 Great food and ambiance there, by the way.

  5. Leigh

    I can’t get over all the art at this resort. I find the fact that they have so many pieces by Botero interesting. We went to the Botero Museum in Bogota; I found the art fascinating but I’m curious why everyone is fat and looks a little depressed. What a fantastic looking place to stay.

    1. Cathy Post author

      Each of the Botero pieces I saw leave room for your imagination to think about deeper meanings, in my opinion — like the “Woman and Child” statue I included.

    1. Cathy Post author

      It really is a unique open-air art museum. It’s so cool to walk around the grounds and come across valuable works of art.

    1. Cathy Post author

      It took a minute for that amount to sink in with me. I had no idea that koi could actually be considered art collections. Amazing, isn’t it?

    1. Cathy Post author

      Thanks, Debbie. Wish I could have included even more photos of art that represented Hawaiian culture. They tell such interesting stories.

  6. Lisa Goodmurphy

    Love how the resort has integrated the art so well. Those Botero sculptures are incredible! I wish that I would have known about the art here when we visited Maui, We stayed further down the beach at Kea Lani and made a trip to the Grand Wailea to see a doctor when my husband broke his hand (that’s a whole other story though) but we didn’t wander around and check out the resort – clearly we should have.

    1. Cathy Post author

      Uplifting is a good word! It is enjoyable to be surrounded by beautiful works anywhere. It really adds to the ambiance, especially being a key element of the resort!)

    1. Cathy Post author

      The dolphins are definitely attention-getters. I’m at a loss to try to compare them with anything else right now — especially anything in a similar setting.

  7. Pingback: A Maui Resort Sampler » Traveling with Sweeney

  8. Johanna at ZigaZag

    What an incredible resort and all that art! I read another piece by Leigh (I think) about Botero’s art at Travel Photo Thursday. Funny how the internet links things all together in surprising ways. What some incredible travels you are having – I’ve just glanced through your riding escapade – looked a lot of fun too 🙂 I used to do a lot of riding, you’ve inspired me to get back into it!!

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