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Hawaii's Public Art

On the Hunt: See the city with fresh eyes via this article, an artistic scavenger hunt of Honolulu’s best public art.


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"Water Lilies"

Photo: Courtesy Honolulu Academy of Arts

A strong community of local artists? Check. World-class European and American and pieces? The work of Native Hawaiian artisans? Definitely. A practically required-to-be-taken-seriously-as-a-city Monet? Oui. Not to mention that Hawaii was the first state to establish an Art in Public Places Program, in 1967, which sets aside 1 percent of construction costs for the acquisition of art. We’re swimming in terrific public art. But when was the last time you went out and enjoyed this visual wealth? Take a field trip into the great gallery that is our cityscape. To help you, we’ve assembled a list of 10 must-see Honolulu artworks. You can’t call yourself local without having seen these pieces at least once.

1. "Father Damien"

Marisol Escobar, 1969


State Capitol, Beretania between Punchbowl and Richards

Father Damien’s boxy frame stands in front of the State Capitol Building, with cars buzzing by as he looks past a colonnade of trees to Punchbowl Crater. Marisol Escobar’s creation—winner of a competitive commission to honor one of Hawaii’s true heroes—inspired controversy from the start. Damien’s bloated face and gnarled hands reveal the ravages of Hansen’s disease. Rather than idealizing the man now known as Saint Damien, Escobar created an arresting image of suffering, strength of character and compassion.


2. "Water Lilies"

Claude Monet, 1917/1919

Oil on Canvas

Honolulu Academy of Arts, Gallery 10

Enter Gallery 10 and Monet’s “Water Lilies” is straight ahead, dominating the room with its woven brushstrokes of pinks and greens. Purchased in 1966, the painting is typical of Monet’s late period. This Impressionist superstar attempts to catch the fleeting effects of light, capturing flowers, sky and water as their relationships shift and flicker. Monet’s inspiration came from his own lily ponds in Giverny, France.


Herb Kane

Earlier this year, the Islands lost one of its most notable artists, Herb Kane. To read more about him and see some of his work, see John Heckathorn’s piece, “Herb Kane: The Last Interview,” in our June issue, archived at honolulumagazine.com.


Photo: Courtesy Bishop Museum


 3. Ahuula (feather cloaks)

Hawaiian artisans, 18th century

Iiwi, ‘o‘o, mamo feathers, olona netting

Bishop Museum

On the ground floor of Hawaiian Hall opposite the pili hale, stunning, yellow-and-red feather cloaks stand as regal and imposing as they did in ancient times. Fashioned over many years by master craftsmen working thousands of brilliantly colored feathers into bold, geometric patterns, they hold great beauty as well as powerful mana. “In Hawaii, the art forms achieved the highest level throughout the Pacific,” says Noelle Kahanu, the Bishop Museum’s project manager. “Here you can really see the legacy of excellence.”




 4. "Upright Motive No. 9"

Henry Moore, 1979


Tamarind Park, Bishop Square

British sculptor Henry Moore’s abstract female figure surveys downtown Honolulu from her elegant perch above a reflecting pool. Cast as an edition of six toward the end of Moore’s career, Honolulu’s “Upright Motive No. 9” was installed in 1983 in the space designed by landscape architect Jim Hubbard. “It’s always been a favorite of mine,” says Mike Schnack, owner of Cedar Street Galleries. “It’s a gorgeous piece and the placement and setting were really well thought out.”


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Honolulu Magazine May 2020
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