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Oahu Arts

The Contemporary Museum

by Ron Dahlquist

Sculpture on the stunning grounds of The Contemporary Museum

Hawaiian tourism is looking beyond the beach for inspiration. On Oahu in particular, it has found a sensual Hawaiian culture rich with artists, which adds to the island’s unique character.

Let your inspiration begin at the high point of a winding road overlooking Honolulu. You’ve found The Contemporary Museum, where edgy art has a home in paradise.

Inside, the museum displays its current exhibit of contemporary art. In an outer building, on permanent exhibition, there’s a David Hockney opera set. Between the two are outdoor displays, including a Hawaiian tennis court by Michael Lin and a striking black-and-white mural by Paul Morrison. The facility also boasts an alluring Japanese garden that winds down the hill through ferns, boulders and native trees. It’s green and restful—and provides a spectacular view of the city.

After lunch at the museum’s delightful outdoor café, head down the hill to the University of Hawaii. There, in a 4,200-square-foot space, the UH Art Gallery has surprises in store. No matter how many times you’ve visited, every stop promises a new experience. For each exhibit, the entire gallery shape-shifts, transforming from Hindu temple to Iranian bazaar to German forest—any backdrop that enhances the current show. It’s one of the world’s most lively and inventive art spaces.

Stunning Shangri La
Still marching to the museum beat, be sure to explore the state’s premier art museum, the Honolulu Academy of Arts. This is a rich, multicultural experience: Greek statues, Korean art, Chinese pottery, Indian sculpture and a surprisingly first-rate collection of French Impressionists. The museum’s layout, a series of exhibit rooms punctuated by courtyards, allows visitors to meander from one country and era to another, with fresh-air breaks.

By all means, have lunch at the Academy—its Pavilion Café is a work of art in itself. The setting is a peaceful museum courtyard, and the cuisine pays homage to Hawaii’s many ethnicities. On the menu: grilled eggplant with goat cheese and basil oil; Niçoise salad with seared ahi; mahi mahi and soba noodle salad; and tempting, homemade ice cream sundaes for a sweet finale.

After lunch, take a pre-arranged tour of Shangri La, the Hawaiian home of heiress Doris Duke. Shangri La sits on five acres overlooking a wild stretch of the Pacific. Its clean, white exterior gives little hint of what lies within.

Through astonishing determination and immense wealth, Duke turned her Hawaiian getaway into a shrine to Muslim art. The walls, ceilings and floors are covered with all things Islamic. The effect is a bit overwhelming,  and the window views of the untamed ocean provide a welcome respite for the eyes.

If your Oahu visit is timed for the first Friday of the month, take advantage of the Hawai’i State Art Museum (HiSAM), where “First Fridays” might include a variety of cuisine from local restaurants, icy cocktails and lively music by local bands. In addition to its everyday offerings of permanent and changing exhibits, HiSAM  and its neighbors’  “First Fridays” offer a raucous night for every age and ethnicity, once a month. You’ll find some of those neighbors in nearby Chinatown. Once a risky neighborhood, it’s now the SoHo of Honolulu.

A host of local art galleries have sprung up in Chinatown, and they’re all open on First Fridays, with free-flowing music, drinks and a young, hip audience. Outdoors, Taiko drummers give a synchronized pulse to the swirling, browsing crowds.

This article has been adapted from the original, which was published by MSP Communications.

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