Earlier this year, our contemporary exhibition Abstruction: The Sculpture of Erick Swenson, which ran from March 1 to July 29, featured the sculptural work of Dallas-based artist Erick Swenson. Located literally front and center of the show: Present in the Past, a shimmering, white geode-encrusted manō, or shark.
When planning the artist’s first solo exhibition, the museum commissioned Swenson to create a piece that would join its permanent collection. He proposed a hammerhead shark based on his fascination with the animal, which is often depicted as a ruthless killer.
However, the museum needed to discuss the idea due to the shark’s important role in Hawaiian culture. “Some manō are considered ʻaumākua, or ancestral dieties, who are thought to be guardians of certain fishing grounds and the ancestors of the fishermen and women of those waters,” curator of the Arts of Hawai‘i Healoha Johnston said in an earlier blog post. “Interestingly, Erick Swenson was unaware of the manō’s significant place in Hawaiian culture when he proposed creating Present in the Past as a commission for this exhibition.”
The museum approved.
Fast forward to fall 2018 and Spalding House recently opened an exhibition featuring new additions to the museum’s contemporary collection. Called In the House: Recent Acquisitions, the exhibition organizes works around themes including abstraction, nature and the environment, portraits and the figure, sculpture, and preparatory drawings related to three-dimensional work. A piece that made total sense to put on display? Swenson’s shark.
“In the House presented a wonderful opportunity to make Erick Swenson’s sculpture Present in the Past accessible once again to museum visitors,” assistant curator of contemporary art Katherine Love said. “Not only was it one of the many important additions to the collection in 2018, it has special significance as a piece commissioned by and created specifically for the Honolulu Museum of Art. The large sculpture of a hammerhead shark encrusted with geode-like formations is centrally located in the gallery, surrounded by paintings and sculptural wood vessels with references to nature including landscapes, animals and plants.”
Now audiences who missed viewing the stunning shark will have another chance. It will be on display at Spalding House until Oct. 29, 2019.