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Honolulu Museum of Art Blog
Honolulu Museum of Art Blog
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HoMA’s big contemporary exhibition of the year—Abstruction: The Sculpture of Erick Swenson—opens March 1.

It is the artist’s first museum solo exhibition, which surveys his work from 2000 to the present, and is more than a decade in the making. The show was initiated by James Jensen, HoMA’s late curator of contemporary art, while he was still curator of The Contemporary Museum. Swenson’s work, Ebie, in the 2003 New York Armory Show, made an impression on Jensen, who had The Contemporary Museum purchase the sculpture (thanks to funds from Jay Shidler). He contacted the artist in 2006, and a year later visited his studio in Dallas. From there, work on an exhibition started in 2013, with the museum committing to purchase a major new work by Swenson.

Ebie, 2002 Urethane resin, glass, oil paint 10 x 8 x 8 inches Collection of Honolulu Museum of Art, Gift of The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, 2011, and purchased with funds given by the Shidler Family Foundation (TCM.2003.06)

Ebie, 2002
Urethane resin, glass, oil paint
10 x 8 x 8 inches
Collection of Honolulu Museum of Art, Gift of The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, 2011, and purchased with funds given by the Shidler Family Foundation (TCM.2003.06)

People are captivated by Swenson’s fantastic labor-intensive constructions made of resins. His work has become increasingly naturalistic over the years. For example, Ebie looks like a very real creature, but not quite like one you’ve seen before—it is a simian, but hairless and pale like a wan human. The 2015 work The Pest House, on the other hand, is a very realistic mass of writhing snails. Either way, Swenson reveals there is little divide between art, nature and science.

The museum has produced an exhibition catalog, which is available in the Museum Shop. Here is an excerpt from the book of Love’s interview with Swenson. (Love saw the show to its completion after Jensen’s passing in April 2017.)

Katherine Love: When planning a new sculpture, do you have a good idea of the final piece in mind, or does it evolve during your working process?

Erick Swenson: Yes, you have your gut and a foggy vision. What exists in your mind is perfect, whether it’s arguably a good or bad idea. Now you must translate it into the physical world and be stubborn enough to see it through, but flexible enough to go with it when something comes up that works better. Part of being an artist is recognizing these things. So in that way making things can sometimes be organic. There are parts in the making of a work that are rigid, but then there are others that you can be more flexible about, and that’s the paradox.

Ne Plus Ultra, 2010 Urethane resin, acrylic paint 17 x 72 x 54 inches Courtesy of the artist and Talley Dunn Gallery Photo: Kevin Todora

Ne Plus Ultra, 2010
Urethane resin, acrylic paint
17 x 72 x 54 inches
Courtesy of the artist and Talley Dunn Gallery
Photo: Kevin Todora

KL: How did you first become interested in using polyurethane resin as a medium for sculpture? How did you discover it was perfect for creating large, incredibly lifelike and detailed work?

ES: I’ve been making things since I was a kid and started trying all the traditional modes of making sculptures and eventually I came upon resins. It was a natural evolution to use resin-based materials in order to do the kind of detailed work I’m interested in. “Resins” means a lot of things, including mold-making, and it’s a very specific discipline. There is simply no other material that gives the kind of detailed results that I want, and there are no real limitations with using resins and making molds either.

KL: What other technology do you use in the creation of your work?

ES: There are all kinds of technologies out there. Personally, I like the hands-on approach. I appreciate the beauty and (questionably) the efficiency of working with clay and making traditional molds. It’s just that simple … and that complicated. But within that framework are new materials that are being developed all the time, such as new rubbers and ways to make molds. You must stay abreast of these things to increase your vocabulary, and the repertoire of what you can make. I like the physicality of making something by hand. Old school.

Abstruction: The Sculpture of Erick Swenson is on view March 1 through July 29.

A version of this story originally appeared on the Honolulu Magazine blog.

2.16.2018

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The world’s eyes are on South Korea as the Winter Olympics in Pyeong Chang continue through Feb. 25. This is an important opportunity for all of us to gain a better understanding of Korea’s remarkable transformation from a region devastated by colonial occupation and war only half a century ago, into an international economic and cultural powerhouse.

While the Hermit Kingdom (coined by William Elliot Griffis in reference to Korea in 1882) might remain an enigmatic mystery to much of the world, its significance comes as no surprise to those of us in Hawai‘i. The first Korean immigrants in Hawai‘i arrived more than a century ago (a milestone commemorated by the acquisition of a superb Dragon Jar that is on display in the Korea Gallery).

Hawai‘i is now home to a dynamic Korean community whose presence is felt in all aspects of our daily culture. The Honolulu Museum of Art has played a role in supporting awareness and appreciation of Korea since the day it opened with a Korean Gallery in place.

The museum’s founders showed remarkable foresight in being one of the few institutions outside Korea to actively develop a collection of Korean art at the time. This is all the more amazing for the fact that ninety-one years ago, Korea did not exist as a sovereign nation, being subjected to colonial rule (a fact one of the commentators at the Olympics opening ceremony showed a stunning lack of sympathy for, causing an international scandal). Similarly, the Hawai‘i monarchy had been overthrown and had been annexed to the United States only a few decades earlier, and the U.S. was also occupying the Philippines. In general it was a dark time for American relations with the Pacific Rim. Chinese immigration to the United States had been banned by the Chinese Exclusion Act in the late 19th century (only repealed in 1943), followed by a similar law in Canada just four years before the museum opened.

How things have changed! One of the greatest takeaways of the Olympics for me has been how important the Asian community now is to American popular culture. The stars of the U.S. team include Nathan Chen, Mirai Nagasu and Chloe Kim (all children of first generation immigrants), who represent not only their Chinese-American, Japanese-American and Korean-American communities, but all of us. In this, they have much in common with the Honolulu Museum of Art, which aims to be a place where art from around the world fosters a spirit of community.

2.16.2018

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Kung Hee Fat Choy! Celebrate the Year of the Dog with these limited-edition pooch-themed gifts from local stationers Mozaic Paper. Don’t wait—these goodies go fast!

A cut above

A cut above

Mozaic continues its line of die-cut Lunar New Year cards that echo traditional Chinese paper cutting. A playful mountain pattern peeks through the canine cut-out. Open the card to find: “An Earth Dog year abounds with affection, loyalty and renewed motivation. Follow your instincts, accelerate your ideas and find time to play.” $7.95.

Earth elements

Earth elements

Red not for you Fred? This extra-soft unisex T-shirt shows off an earthy espresso pup. $24.

Tea time

Tea time

This dog spreads happiness and good fortune in the form of a silkscreened tea towel (aka super handy, all-purpose dish towel) featuring the eleventh sign framed by leaves, daffodils, and flying swallows. $14.95.

2.12.2018

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For the last three years, museum deputy director of art and programs Theresa Papanikolas has been working as guest curator for Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawai‘i, opening at the New York Botanical Garden on May 19. With her experience as curator of HoMA’s popular 2013 exhibition Georgia O’Keeffe and Ansel Adams: The Hawai‘i Pictures, she was the perfect candidate to curate this new show.

The mounting of this exciting exhibition means the museum’s O’Keeffe paintings, including the three hanging in the Modernism gallery, will be off on a yearlong journey starting at the end of April. Your last day to see these singular depictions of a lush, almost abstract Maui is April 22—Earth Day.

And if you plan on being in New York between May 19 and Oct. 28, you have the opportunity to see the museum’s O’Keeffes in a new setting. Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawai‘i comprises an exhibition of more than 15 of the works O’Keeffe made in 1939 in the islands in the NYBG’s LuEsther T. Mertz Library Art Gallery, as well as a flower show in its Enid A. Haupt Conservatory that evokes the gardens and landscapes that inspired O’Keeffe and tells the complex story of the flora and ecology of the islands.

The show is a homecoming of sort for the paintings—they made their public debut in Alfred Stieglitz’s American Place Gallery in Manhattan in 1940.

NYBG programming for the show includes an Aloha Nights series that features kapa- and lei-making demos, work by tattoo artist Keone Nunes and designer Manaola Yap, and a poke truck (!). The garden’s walkways will be illuminated by O’Keeffe-inspired lanterns created by Mark Chai. Special tickets for these events are now on sale.

The exhibition will travel to the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. The museum’s O’Keeffe works will return home in March 2019. So get a good look now.

Georgia O’Keeffe (American, 1887-1986)
Waterfall—No. III—Iao Valley, 1939
Oil on canvas
Gift of Susan Crawford Tracy, 1996 (8562.1)
Honolulu Museum of Art

2.12.2018

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Last month, I had the honor of co-chairing the Art House Convergence, an annual conference for Art House theaters, which took place in Midway, Utah. The annual event is the largest gathering of art house cinema professionals and attracts participants from around the world. By defining the field, creating a shared vision and vocabulary, and identifying best practices, the educational components of the conference strengthen efforts to sustain art house cinemas of various sizes, operating structures, and programming philosophies. The goal is to engage art house theaters, film festivals, film societies, museums and other exhibition-oriented organizations through a variety of topics.

The museum’s Doris Duke Theatre is a singular art house that holds its own. And as its director, it’s my goal to keep it mission-based, community-driven and, most important—relevant. Which is why you’ll see shifts in theater programs that are a result of community demand and the national conversation I was part of at Convergence.

At the Art House Convergence opening-night keynote speech. Aaron Dworkin, founder of the Sphinx Organization talked about

At the Art House Convergence opening-night keynote speech. Aaron Dworkin, founder of the Sphinx Organization talked about “How Art Houses Can Win.”

The Convergence began in 2006 when the Sundance Institute invited 14 art house theaters to the Sundance Film Festival. By 2008, the theaters decided to start their own annual winter meeting in Utah, coinciding with Sundance. Since then, the annual conference has grown to more than 600 attendees and now includes regional seminars, industry events, and other programs throughout the year.

Along with co-chair Chris Collier, co-director of Philadelphia’s Renew Theaters, I oversaw the development and planning of the conference program. The experience was eye-opening and informed how we position the work we do at Doris Duke Theatre within a local, national, and international context. Here’s what I learned.

Art houses face two key issues—addressing inequity and the need to evolve. These challenges raise a lot of questions:   

  • How do we take action to actively dismantle oppression and inequity in our organizations and communities? How do we implement this work within our programming, marketing, operations, fundraising, and educational programs? Nation-wide, the art house world is primarily white, wealthy, and above the age of forty, so how do we better serve younger audiences, people of color, and lower-income patrons? In light of gender inequity and the fact that two major cinemas in the art house community—Cinefamily and Alamo Drafthouse—experienced high-profile sexual harassment scandals, how do we re-evaluate and shift our film culture to elevate women’s voices and prevent harassment of any kind?
  • Throughout film history, art houses have determinedly and defiantly evolved in response to the times. But how do we continue to be nimble and adaptive in an ever-evolving industry that constantly questions the value and existence of the art house? With Netflix, Moviepass, and virtual reality challenging the traditional experience of cinema, what role does the theatrical experience have in today’s world?

When facing pervasive issues of inequity, changing technologies, and competing business models, art houses’ ability to evolve is measured by 1) our ability to facilitate uncomfortable conversations about what we don’t do well and 2) our ability to organize and activate our collective resources. Conferences usually involve a lot of self-congratulating, but the reality is that we can all do better and need to talk about that. When so much of our time and energy is spent making ends meet in our local cinemas, devoting more time and energy to participate in a larger collective effort can be daunting.

Art of conversation. The Convergence is described as a communication channel for art houses. After ten years of growth, the conference structure had to evolve to make space for increasingly diverse voices. Its expansion tended to compartmentalize certain conversations from the rest—while conference sessions focused on topics like concession stands, repertory programming, and digital marketing, participants where having their own concerned discussions on race and gender in hallways and other alternative spaces. If communication channels make up the blood flow to a healthy community, then Convergence’s task was to reconcile those conversations, recognize the power dynamics within the conference, and re-envision an inclusive structure for better dialogue.

So this year the conference took great steps in this direction—from re-structuring how the conference is organized to moving conversations that were once on the fringe into the spotlight.

But there is still more work ahead. The hope is that, as the Convergence continues to evolve as a communication channel, understanding the intersectionality of the work we do will become easier. For example, we cannot address racial inequality in our programming without realizing how operations, development, education, and marketing influence that programming. The Convergence can inform how we re-conceptualize those disciplines. Beyond that, evolved communication channels help to visualize what collective action might look like in the face of industry-wide issues. The widespread action required for systemic change is hard to visualize, but my experience at the Art House Convergence taught me that, when we first focus on creating space for healthy conversation, new communication channels form that map direct pathways for collective action.

Gina Duncan, associate vice president of cinema at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), leads an Alliance for Action breakout discussion about equity in art house operations.

Gina Duncan, associate vice president of cinema at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM), leads an Alliance for Action breakout discussion about equity in art house operations.

Collective action. My involvement as co-chair of the Art House Convergence wouldn’t have happened without the Alliance for Action, a collective that I co-founded last year with Courtney Sheehan, the executive director of Seattle’s Northwest Film Forum. This working group of art house professionals is dedicated to addressing equity issues in independent film exhibition and distribution. We formed the group to create consistent space for conversations that were not happening elsewhere in the art house community. It started with fifty art house professionals in a lounge having frank conversations about topics like hiring more diverse staff, programming films that go against market trends, outreach to underrepresented communities, subversive promotional strategies, and re-envisioning memberships for lower-income patrons. This year, we expanded our conversational space by hosting seven sessions to address equity issues in programming, marketing, development, operations, and education. Keynote presentations focused on racial and gender equity, and a plenary conversation examined sexual harassment in cinemas. If it weren’t for the formation of Alliance for Action, our commitment to monthly video chats, and our ability to work with other conference organizers, we wouldn’t have been able to put equity issues at the center of this year’s conference.

The Alliance for Action members strike a pose.

The Alliance for Action members strike a pose.

Between tackling inequity and the rest of our industry problems, conference attendees took breaks to have fun at things like movie trivia (competing with the nation’s premier cinephiles is pretty scary), karaoke, and Trailer Wars—in which theaters submit their best in-house movie trailers. And then there’s the ever popular Art House Tales, a PechaKucha-like event that gives each theater three minutes to tell their story. There’s also an ice castle (see below). After four intense days of conferencing, most of us head to the Sundance Film Festival to watch films and hang out in Park City.

The Ice Castle.

The Ice Castle.

Mission-driven, community-based, and doggedly independent, art houses often work in silos from one another. We realize that the local scale of our operations has certain advantages in an Internet-driven world: it enables us to have deeper relationships, create in-person communal experiences, and maintain greater curatorial accountability with our audience, but as much as we work with a community-based mindset, we’re only beginning to realize the impact a national community of art houses can have on our collective audience base and the film industry as a whole.

As a theater operating in Hawai’i, it’s easy for us to forget that we are part of a larger network, but the work we do on a local level has wider implications than we realize. At the Doris Duke Theatre, all our programs are in the process of evolving, and that evolution requires constant conversation with our audience, festival committees, volunteers, and staff. Like many art house theaters, we often facilitate difficult conversations, organize community, and creatively sustain ourselves against the odds. What I learned was that the skill sets we hone on a local level are the same skill sets applied within the larger industry community. While art houses are still in the process of evolving in response to equity concerns, new technology, and new business models, I look forward to continuing to participate in the ongoing conversations and collective actions that will help drive that evolution forward.

Coast to coast: All the art house theaters in the U.S.

See the Indiewire story on this year’s Art House Convergence.

2.12.2018

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Having trouble getting a reservation at your special someone’s favorite bistro? Can’t remember which flowers she’s allergic to? Struggling to track down a vegan, gluten-free, low-sugar, delectable treat to tickle his tastebuds? Relationships are hard! Not to worry, the Museum Shop has you covered.

Pucker up!

Pucker up!

Wondering how to tell your crush you’d like to be more than friends? These unforgettable Kissycups can make the first move for you! $100-$140

Timeless twosomes

Timeless twosomes

For the art historian: nothing says “my love is eternal” better than a hundred images of couples immortalized in masterworks from every age. $29.99

I heart you

I heart you

Show her it’s more than fascination with this punny pop-up book by Nick Bantock, creator of the best-selling Griffin and Sabine series. $14.95

2.5.16

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In addition to our staff of almost 200 employees, HoMA is fortunate to have more than 400 volunteers—including 111 docents—who work hard to keep things running smoothly during events like ARTafterDARK and Bank of Hawaii Family Sunday, at screenings and performances at Doris Duke Theatre, not to mention our daily operations at the Visitor Information Center, as well as leading tours. In fact, many of our current staff began their careers at HoMA as volunteers.

And volunteer coordinator Janna Plant is the person who oversees the training, placement and scheduling of this crucial corps. “The volunteers are like ambassadors for the museum,” says Plant. “On campus and when they’re out in the community—they are extremely important. In many ways we couldn’t function without them.”

Between all the emails and phone calls it takes to stay organized and in touch with so many people, Plant likes to spend her lunch breaks at Spalding House with her favorite artwork in the museum—L’Enfant et les sortilèges, the permanent installation by David Hockney.

Housed in Cades Pavilion at the edge of the lush, terraced garden, L’Enfant et les sortilèges is an interpretation of Hockney’s original stage designs for the 1981 production of Maurice Ravel’s opera of the same name. The installation is an immersive painting, bathed in red light as the arias and soliloquys loop through the story of a naughty boy who receives his comeuppance when the animals and objects he’s tortured come to life.

The forest

The forest of L’Enfant et les sortilèges

“People tell me that it scares them when they walk in,” says Plant. “But I feel like what we bring in with us is what scares us. Walking into Hockney’s forest is like walking into that liminal space where the imagination comes alive and transformation happens. And actually, I’m scared when the door opens because you don’t know what’s going to come in!

“The other thing that I love about it—the really special thing about Spalding House that cannot happen anywhere else—is that when you exit Hockney’s forest you actually have the opportunity to keep that experience going by walking into [the sculpture and meditation garden] Nu‘umealani. There’s so much possibility in the garden.”

2.5.18

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Have you had a chance to visit the exhibition Body of Work, currently on view in our Contemporary Art Gallery? The show opened last June, but in January works on paper were rotated out of the show (they can’t stay on view for extended periods of time due to light sensitivity) and replaced with other works on paper from the collection. So even if you saw it last year, there are new things to explore.

One new addition is Yasumasa Morimura’s Self-Portrait/After Marilyn Monroe—a gelatin silver print of the artist dressed as Marilyn Monroe, based on a publicity portrait of the actress from the film The Seven Year Itch. The photograph is part of Morimura’s “Actresses” series, which comprises 20 similar self-portraits in which the artist recreates iconic images of Marlene Dietrich, Catherine Deneuve, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, and Brigitte Bardot. Often compared to Cindy Sherman, Morimura’s recreations of celebrity iconography and art-historical masterpieces evoke the Japanese Kabuki theater tradition of onnagata, in which men perform female roles, and challenge traditional Western notions of sexual identity, popular culture, and desire.

According to assistant curator of Contemporary Art Katherine Love, Morimura’s earlier work was first shown in Honolulu 20 years ago at The Contemporary Museum (now Spalding House), as part of the group show Photography and Beyond in Japan, organized by the Hara Museum.

Body of Work is on view through April 29. To learn more about the show, read Curator’s notes: Katherine Love on Body of Work.

Yasumasa Morimura (Japanese, born 1951)
Self-Portrait/After Marilyn Monroe, 1996
Gelatin silver print
Gift of The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, 2011, and purchased with funds derived from gifts of the Honolulu Advertiser Collection at Persis Corporation, by exchange (TCM.1997.26).

1.28.2018

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Hannah Craft joined the museum as a teaching artist in 2014, but since she began managing the museum’s 35 outreach programs last summer, she spends the majority of her time outside the classroom. “We serve about 1,700 kids a week,” says Craft. “Our programs are mostly in public schools, some in shelters and transitional housing complexes—during school, after school, art therapy—I basically help set them all up.”

For Craft, the best thing about working at the museum is “spending time in these buildings surrounded by really, really great art and other people who care about it.” When asked which work is the greatest, she opts for Robert Rauschenberg’s Trophy V (for Jasper Johns), on view in the Temporary Exhibition Gallery 10The 78-by-72-inch canvas is one of the artist’s signature “combines”—a form that joins sculpture and painting—featuring an inset metal-frame window, an attached cardboard box, and several other three-dimensional objects painted in various tones of gray.

“I’ve always loved Rauschenberg,” Craft explains. “I’m a huge fan of assemblage and combines and just kind of…piling stuff together. I have so much respect for painting, but I’m a sculptor, so I’ve always appreciated how he pushed what we think of as painting and took it beyond the two-dimensional canvas, and how he incorporated found objects. Kids who see it tend to say ‘That’s not a painting!’ which I think is a really fun conversation because it’s not…but it is. I’m really interested in what other people consider art or trash, and this piece makes you think about those questions.”

Robert Rauschenberg (American, 1925-2008)
Trophy V (for Jasper Johns), 1962
Combine painting on canvas
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Frederick R. Weisman in honor of James W. Foster, 1971 (4022.1)

1.26.2018

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