Drew's Guide to Hawaii's Art Scene
Before moving to Hawaii I was frankly aghast by what I saw of Hawaii artwork -- neon paintings of dolphins. I am afraid to admit that this actually dominates the galleries in tourist areas (in my opinion), but Honolulu is home to some very good art.
In terms of art, a few museums should be part of a cool tourist's itinerary. For more on other museums in Hawaii, see the homepage of the Hawaii Museums Association.
- The Honolulu Academy of Arts has an amazing collection of Western and Asian paintings and sculptures. Don't miss the Van Gogh, Pissarro, de Vlaminck, Modigliani or my favorite, the collection of Buddhist statues, ukiyo-e, Japanese and Korean pottery. The Museum also runs the Doris Duke Theatre, which screens foreign and independent films, and a tasty and reasonably priced restaurant (lunch only). The museum is in a lovely building and is easy to visit by bus.
- The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu is a bit trickier to get to, but has an amazing view (overlooking the city), a fine lunch restaurant, and interesting visiting exhibits.
- The last museum I'll mention was a pleasant surprise. Located right next to the State Capitol, the Hawaii State Art Museum (250 S. Hotel St.): 586-0900. Admission is free (although donations are welcome). The museum features a nice variety of artists who live(d) in Hawaii. The collection is fantastic and is located in a superb old building. It does close early though (except on First Fridays).
- There is one other fine museum on campus -- the John Young Museum of Art, which has an amazing collection of Asian art, including amazing pottery by Shungen Inouye.
it closes rather early in the day, so check the schedule before visiting the University of Hawaii. If you are on campus, be sure to visit the Japanese gardens behind the East-West Center.
Even if you are just visiting Hawaii, I encourage you to check out some of our fine history museums.
- The Bishop Museum is perhaps the most famous museum. It was established in 1898 by the widow of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, who was the last descendant of the Kamehameha (royal) family. It is close to the airport, but is also reachable by bus or trolley. It has exhibits on the people of Hawaii and the pacific as well as natural science.
- Hawaii was greatly shaped by the
missionaries who came to Hawaii. The impact of these visits was immense. To better understand this, you are encouraged to check out Hawaii Mission Houses Museum. It has a printing press, an excellent library, archive, and exhibits. It is next to Kawaiaha'o Church, and very close to I'olani Palace and several important historic buildings. The City has a fine homepage that could inspire a walking tour of this Capitol District.
- One of my favorite museums (because I am inspired by Japanese American history) is the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii (located between the University of Hawaii and Waikiki at 2454 S. Beretania St.). It has a permanent exhibit that relates the history of the Japanese experience in Hawaii. Temporary exhibits relate to Nikkei art or history.
- There are arts and craft exhibits nearly every week, but many of these stands are overpriced kitch souvenirs for tourists.
- The Honolulu Art Academy and a fun group of people have organized events for art-lovers "under 40" called Art After Dark, which is usually on the last Friday of the month.
- Twice a year, check out events held by Honolulu Printmakers
- On the First Friday of the month people of all ages can join in a walking tour of galleries in Chinatown, including Mark's Garage, and the State Art Museum.
- Kailua is getting into the act with its Second Sunday art gallery walk (see my side trips page)
- Art Students at the University of Hawaii (ceramics, glass, and lithography) and Chaminade (ceramics) have nice student art sales at the end of the semester (especially in December). These are fun ways of supporting upcoming artists.
My favorite galleries are The Gallery at Ward Centre, [1200 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu, 96814; TEL:
(808) 597-8034], which is a cooperative, and the Cedar Street Gallery [817 Cedar St., Honolulu, 96814; TEL: (808) 589-1580]. One can also find some nice Asian art at the Robyn Buntin Gallery [848 S. Beretania St.,
Honolulu 96813; TEL: (808) 536-6305].
Sadly, two of my favorite art galleries closed. Bibelot (affordable and funky art paintings and ceramics) closed down in July 2006. The more interesting galleries left in town seem to be around Chinatown, like Art @ Mark's Garage (see First Friday above). I never would have imagined Kailua as an art haven, but Honolulu ceramic artist Daven Hee got together with some other artists to create a cooperative gallery called Lodestar Collective, but I'm afraid that also died. The best art scene in my mind remains the little galleries in Chinatown, around Mark's Garage.
You can check out upcoming art "happenings," gallery openings, films, etc. in The Honolulu Weekly (our weekly alternative paper).
Last updated Feb. 2009.