Travel Blog – Visiting the Honolulu Museum of Art!

Honolulu Museum of Art


Last winter break, on a trip back to my home in Hawaii, I was eager to re-enter the Museum I had visited many times while I had grown up on the Island. However, this visit was different, as I was armed  with the new technical perspectives I had gained through my work at the Gund Gallery and Art History Class.

As I traveled throughout the museum, many new things stuck out at me. In the past, I had rushed past them, eager to get to my favorite art pieces. My new knowledge expanded my sight to include much more of the Museum: mainly its colored walls,  global connections, and a related artist.

Colored Walls

By helping to set up the Gund Gallery’s most recent exhibition, Urban Cadence, last spring, I learned much about the behind-the-scenes work that went into the setup of each museum exhibit. A large group of associates rearranged art pieces, painted, and re-decorated walls in a arduous and well-thought-out process.

As the Gund Gallery exhibit was being set up, I bore witness to the repainting of the large, white walls. I had to pay much more attention to the paint of the gallery than I had before, making sure its clear surface wasn’t blemished as we set up the new exhibit. I realized that the blank walls provided a clean aspect to a museum, while also uniting its several collections.

Therefore, I was surprised to realize the diversity of the palette used to decorate the walls of the Honolulu Museum of Art. The choice to utilize color in the exhibitions echoed the diversity of the collections, which range from eastern antiquity to western modernism. Instead of being totally cohesive, the museum chooses to accentuate each collection with a color that complements it.


Crivelli, Carlo, Apostle, Tempera and gilding on panel. Italian, 1430, Honolulu Museum of Art.

The powerful gold walls  in the room for the European Renaissance were chosen to “make the artwork pop.” The paint also serves well to match the lustrous gold gilding in some of the 15th century Italian pieces.


Neel, Alice, Marisol, Oil on Canvas. American, 1981. Oil on Canvas. Honolulu Museum of Art.

The portraiture room of the Honolulu Museum of Art is well-known for its characteristically bright orange walls. The color was chosen to complement the skin colors of the portraits subjects, giving the room and its pieces a healthy glow.  


Beyeren, Abraham van, A Fruit Still Life, Dutch, 1655. Oil on Canvas. Honolulu Museum of Art.

“Dramatic purple walls” fill the European room, surrounding the influential western region in regality. The colors for this and the American room were chosen collectively by curator of European and American art Theresa Papanikolas and graphic designer Jared Stone.

Global Connections

Through my work at the Gund Gallery I have been introduced to the African cities Lagos, Nigeria, and Johannesburg, which are highlighted in the rhythmic pictures of the Gallery’s featured photographers. As my experience with the collection grew, so did my fascination for the ability of art to transcend language and distance in order to provide a glimpse into different cultures. The Honolulu Museum of Art contains artwork from many different cultures, including European, Chinese, Buddhist, Japanese, Korean, Tibetan, Cycladic, Egyptian, and Hawaiian. When I visited over break, I was more open and excited than ever to learn about each different society.


Joanna Lau Sullivan Chinese Courtyard and Mediterranean Courtyard, Honolulu Museum of Art

The Museum contains two outdoor courtyards, one mediterranean and one Chinese, in order to mimic the two sections of art collections. The Asian and European collections lie on opposite ends of the gallery, adjacent to where the countries are located on either side of the Hawaiian Islands. The courtyards were made to take advantage of natural light and Hawaii’s warm climate.

Cycladic and Egyptian Art


Male Figure, Egypt, 2350-2170 B.C., Old Kingdom, Dynasty 6. Limestone with traces of polychrome. Honolulu Museum of Art.  Female Figure, Cycladic, 2500-2400 B.C. Marble with traces of polychrome.Honolulu Museum of Art.

I was surprised and excited to see these very old Egyptian and Cycladic pieces, having just learned about the same culture’s art in my Art History Survey 1 class at Kenyon. Ancient Egyptian figures are positioned awkwardly so that all limbs are shown; it was believed that this ensured that the soul of the person would make it into the afterlife in one piece. Cycladic figures originate from the Cycladic islands in Greece, and although their purpose is unclear, their large quantity guarantees them a place in museums all around the world.

Hawaiian Art


Imin, Kanyaku, Kanyaku Imin. Hammered and welded copper. American, 1985, Honolulu Museum of Art.                     Wires,Theodore, The Lei Maker. American, 1901, Honolulu Museum of Art.

In the Hawaiian section, I was drawn to the subtle colors hidden in the copper of Kanyaku Imin. Although incomprehensible from afar, the figures laid over the stone resemble ancient Hawaiian Petroglyphs. Furthermore, like many of the tourists that pour into Hawaii, I found myself attracted to the idealized, traditional Hawaiian culture depicted in the deep red tones and flowers in  The Lei Maker.

Buddhist Art


Guanyin, China, 960-1126. Wood with traces of pigment. Honolulu Museum of Art.                                                                          Kurukulla, Tibet, 18th-19th century. Gilt bronze. Honolulu Museum of Art.

These two figures, though largely contrasting in size (from larger than life to the size of a palm), both project very powerful messages. The image on the left depicts Guanyin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, and is a great example of the “royal ease” style, which became prominent in China during the 10th and 11th century. The image in the right depicts Kurukulla, a goddess of power and protector of buddhism.

Korean Art


Dragon, Korea, Jodeon Dynasty, 1392-1910. Panell; ink and color on paper. Honolulu Museum of Art.                                               Dragon Jar, Korea, Joseon Dynasty, 18th century. Porcelain with cobalt blue. Honolulu Museum of Art.

These dragons are from the Jodeon dynasty of Korea, which was both the longest imperial dynasty and the most Confucian, emphasizing order and peace. In Korea, the dragon is a highly revered, auspicious, and mythological creature.

Chinese Art


Woman’s Jacket, China, Qing Dynasty, 1875-1908. Silk and gilt paper strips, satin weave, embroidery. Honolulu Museum of Art.     Xi, Dai. River Scene, China, Qing Dynasty 1856.  Fan; ink and color on paper. Honolulu Museum of Art.

The Qing Dynasty has semi-nomadic origins, which linger in the shapes of their robes. Manchu elite in this period were great connoisseurs of art, creating a great leap in technical accomplishment.

Japanese Art


Tesseki, Fujimoto, Old Pine. Japan, Edo period, 185. Hanging scroll; ink on satin. Honolulu Museum of Art.                                      Eisen, Keisai, The Suzuri Spring at Torii Pass near Yabuhara (from Sixty-Nine Stations of the Kisokaido Road). Edo period, 1835. Woodblock print; ink and color on paper.  Honolulu Museum of Art.

The pine tree, a symbol of fortitude, when paired with a rock and a mushroom, were often given to celebrate a recipient’s 60th birthday. The Honolulu Museum of Art has the third largest collection of Japanese woodblocks in the United States. It was in the peaceful Edo period that the term Ukiyo-e, or “the floating world,” surrounded the more whimsical, lighthearted scenes in woodblock prints.

European Art


Paul, Gauguin, Two Nudes on a Tahitian Beach, French, 1891/1894. Oil on Canvas. Honolulu Museum of Art.                               Monet, Claude, Water Lilies, French, 1917/1919. Oil on Canvas. Honolulu Museum of Art.

Western artists, like Paul Gauguin and Claude Monet, also have a place at the museum. Two Nudes on a Tahitian Beach was completed when Gauguin, seeking relief from industrialized Europe, left France for Tahiti. Water Lilies belongs to the last of three series of Monet’s work, each seeking to capture the fleeting light dancing across his lily pond.

Related Artist – Robert Rauschenberg

Having already witnessed Rauschenberg’s unorthodox art style at the Gund Gallery, I was somewhat prepared when I beheld Trophy V at the Honolulu Museum.


Robert Rauschenberg, Grape Levee (from Rookery Mounds), American, 1979. 3-color lithograph. 41 x 31 inches, Gund Gallery Collection.                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Robert Rauschenberg, Trophy V (for Jasper Johns), American, 1962. Combine painting on canvas. Honolulu Museum of Art.

Last semester my Drawing 1 class took a trip out of Horvitz hall to the Gund Gallery, where we spent about an hour picking apart each of the photo collages in Rauschenberg’s “Rookery Mounds” series. While at first glance I hadn’t thought much of the seemingly arbitrary photo selections, a closer look illuminated the subtle themes and well-thought out composition, which provided layers of meaning for each piece.

When I approached Trophy V, instead of giving it a quick glance of acknowledgement and continuing on like many others in the group, I stayed back with  a few people and really tried to pick apart the piece. We began to notice the industrial, urban aspects of the piece much more, along with the graffiti-esque slashes of contrasting light and dark colors. The different tones seemed to resemble the layers of paint one could see on an old building. The small map of America could narrow the piece’s focus to the urbanization of the rapidly growing country. The traffic light lacked a yellow center, but the yellow paper provided enough contrast with its white background to draw me closer. On the paper was the only depiction of natural imagery: a shell draw thinly with pencil, styled with the spiral of the golden ratio. The paper appeared to be covering something else, perhaps hinting that there was a more natural, earthen underlayer beneath the many layers of grey tones and industrial symbols on the piece.


Flower from the Joanna Lau Sullivan Chinese Courtyard

Leaving the Honolulu Museum of Art after break, I felt much like the bouncing kid I had been when I toured the museum for the first time. Working at the gallery has made me realize how much different choices made in Museums, as well as in art, influence a visitors/viewers experience. By highlighting these choices, being an associate makes deeper, more exciting analysis’s possible.

Miah Tapper ’21

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