Nestled in the heart of Honolulu, the Honolulu Museum of Art is a destination for visitors keen on exploring Hawaii’s rich history. While the museum’s permanent collection is known for its extensive archive of Hawaiian art, this is just one of its many artistic treasures. Here visitors are able to fully immerse themselves in cultural and aesthetic traditions that span the globe. While this institution is devoted to older artistic traditions, the museum’s counterpart, the Honolulu Museum of Art Spalding House, is entirely devoted to contemporary art. There, visitors can find five galleries, a café, and an outdoor sculpture garden. Another longstanding partner of the museum is the Honolulu Museum of Art at First Hawaiian Center. Like Spalding House, the First Hawaiian Center focuses on showcasing emerging and contemporary artists; however, like its name suggests, it aims to highlight Hawaiian artists and Hawaii-based art.
Now seen as one of the finest art museums in the United States, the Honolulu Museum of Art started out as a passion project for its founder, Anna Rice Cooke, in 1927. The Beretania street location of the museum was once the private home of the Cooke family. As Anna developed her interest in the arts, she started to accumulate a private collection of parlor pieces from Yeun Kwock Fong Inn, a local furniture maker who was importing art from China at the time. As Anna’s collection grew, she made the decision to open Hawaii’s first visual arts museum. Once the Cookes obtained the charter for the museum from the Territory of Hawai’i, they leveled their own home and hired New York architect Bertram Goodhue to design the original building that would become the Honolulu Museum of Art. Phillip’s revival mission design of the building set the tone for Hawaii’s unique architectural aesthetic for years to come. Over the years, the museum expanded its collection from just 500 pieces to the now 50,000 pieces that cover 5,000 years of history spanning Asia, the Americas, Europe, and Oceania.
The museum’s collection of art from China, Japan, Korea, India, the Philippines, and Southeast Asia is one of the most extensive in the country. With 23,000 objects, Korean, Japanese, and Chinese art is especially well represented. The museum’s Japanese woodblock prints are often hailed as the crown jewel of their already well-regarded Asian collection. The 10,000 woodblock prints in the museum’s permanent collection include works by Katsushika Hokusai, Kitagawa Utamaro, and Utagawa Hiroshige. This collection of ukio-e owes its origins to a sizable donation by James Michener, writer and lifelong Japanese art collector. In 1991, the museum, with the generous help of the Robert F. Lange Foundation, began a conservation program for the prints aimed at preserving these fragile pieces. This work culminated in the creation of an online digital database that currently holds 6,000 prints in its archives.
European and American Prints and Drawings
The 15,000 works that comprise this part of the museum’s holdings are able to acquaint visitors with the artistic traditions of Europe and America from the late 15th century to the present day. In this section, particular emphasis was given to Modernist artists.
The museum’s collection of Hawaiian art and artifacts is considered one the best such collections in the country and likely anywhere else in the word. The history of this unique state is very well documented through the prints, paintings, sculpture, and artifacts that showcase the changing culture and people of Hawaii. Visitors can view works by well-known local artists such as John Kelly, Joseph Nawahi, and Jean Charlot among others. One of the Hawaiian collection’s central points of interest is the collection of works on paper by artists who had contact with Hawaii during the 18th to the 19th centuries. Many of these artists were part of some of the first European and Russian expeditions to the islands and as such offer interesting perspectives on the Hawaiian land and people.
The textile collection at the museum was spawned by Anna Rice Cooke’s own donation of 369 works from all across the world. Her interest in global artistic traditions can be seen in her eclectic original collection, which includes a Noh robe, a European chasuble, and an exceptional and rarely seen Hawaiian quilt depicting Eden. Currently, the museum’s holdings of textile work number close to 6,000 pieces hailing from approximately 60 countries.
900 S. Beretania Street, Honolulu, HI 96814, Phone: 808-532-8700