State museum, gallery district offer Oahu travelers authentic Hawaii art

InsightTravelers browsing through the wide range of retail shops lining Waikiki’s sidewalks and filling many of its hotel lobbies are certain to encounter some beautiful landscape painting and photography.

That brand of picturesque, scenery-heavy artwork, one I’ve frequently heard described as “touristy art” by residents, is exactly the kind of imagery many Oahu visitors are looking to enjoy and even purchase.

But travelers interested in a more authentic look at Hawaii’s unique art scene, one that showcases a far more comprehensive sampling of work inspired by life in the Islands and created by people with strong ties to the state, may want to consider stopping by the frequently overlooked Hawaii State Art Museum (HiSam) in downtown Honolulu.

Shane NelsonJust a five-minute walk from a long-time Honolulu tourism highlight, the Iolani Palace, HiSam celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2012 and occupies a Spanish-mission-style building in the capitol district that was first opened in 1928.

Admission is free, and the museum features two sprawling indoor exhibition spaces and an outdoor sculpture gallery, showcasing works from the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and Arts collection, which consists of more than 6,000 pieces and was designed to enhance public buildings and properties across the Islands.

“All of our art has some kind of connection to the state,” said Scott Young, the visitor services manager at HiSam. “And each of the artists was either born here, raised here, went to school here or taught here.”

Along with several terrific exhibitions consisting of artwork from the state collection, created by established Hawaii artists, visitors who stop by HiSam before April 1 can check out the venue’s 50th annual Regional Scholastic Arts Awards exhibit, featuring prize-winning work by schoolchildren from across the Islands ranging from seventh graders to high school seniors.

HiSAM HonoluluI visited the show shortly after it opened last weekend and was pleasantly surprised, especially by the frank approach and honesty of many of the photographic portraits.

“It’s excellent work, and these students really are the future of Hawaii’s art,” Young said, adding that a few of the show’s artists will travel with their pieces to Washington later this spring to compete against students from around the country.

“The scholastic show features a lot of work that’s as good or better than some of the stuff we have in our permanent collection,” Young continued. “And all of it is by students who are from here giving their perspective on Hawaii.”

Just a 10-minute walk west from HiSam, art lovers can stop by some of the state’s best contemporary art galleries, where a trove of excellent work by Hawaii artists is on display and available for purchase.

Most of the galleries are situated between downtown Honolulu’s central business district and Chinatown, on Bethel Street, Nuuanu Avenue or Hotel Street. Keep an eye out for galleries like Thirtyninehotel, the Arts at Mark’s Garage, the Peggy Chun Gallery, the Andrew Rose Gallery and two of my favorites: the Louis Pohl Gallery and the Bethel Street Gallery.

Each of the establishments above, including HiSam, participate in Honolulu’s monthly First Friday gallery art festival, and there are also some excellent places to eat nearby, such as longtime local favorite Indigo for terrific Eurasian dishes and a new hot spot: Restaurant Epic. And those looking to sample one of Honolulu’s most popular Chinese eateries won’t want to skip the Little Village Noodle House.

For more about HiSam, visit
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