If you had to pick the best works in the museum’s collection, sorting through more than 50,000 pieces, which would you choose? Would you be able to narrow that selection down to 200? Or even 150? That was the task museum curators took on in May 2014, hoping to showcase the crème de la crème of the museum’s art in an updated catalog of selected works. The end result was Honolulu Museum of Art: Collection Highlights—a rigorously vetted list of 134 pieces of art that curators felt best represented the prestigious collection. With the project finally at an end, we sat down with some of those involved in creating the new catalog to hear their take on the process.
The project began with eight curators in a room with hundreds of pictures taped to the walls. Curator of European and American art Theresa Papanikolas took part in the final decision-making process.“This book was a true collaboration on the part of a number of different departments, and we curators were in charge of selecting the works to be featured,” says Papanikolas. “In the end, each of us brought our favorites, determined on the basis of quality and art-historical significance.”
Among the major changes to the collection since the 1990 release of the first catalog was the museum’s merger with The Contemporary Museum—now called The Honolulu Museum of Art Spalding House—in 2011. The merger aimed to serve a diverse community, and expose audiences of both museums to a more expansive collection of art. This was part of the motivation behind creating a new catalog.
“Our museum’s collection has changed quite a bit in the generation,” says curator of Japanese art Stephen Salel. “As an institution, we’ve changed our approach to collecting and displaying fine art as well. This new highlights catalog will be a great opportunity for people to discover the new Honolulu Museum of Art.”
The process of choosing which pieces would be featured, coordinating times between photographers to take photos of the artwork, and designing the layout of the book itself took more than two years. It gave the museum a chance to redefine its collection and present its new brand to visitors. “We wanted the colors and fonts the museum uses to be absorbed into the book. That was a way to showcase our branding as well,” says the museum’s art director Jared Stone.
Details, such as determining which works would be placed next to each other, were heavily thought through. The catalog gives readers the opportunity to see the connections between complimentary pieces of art, which seamlessly demonstrates the broad range of cultures and eras of history within the museum’s walls.
Many hardworking individuals brought the catalog to life, and the long hours shine through in the finished product. “I think the new collections highlights book really signals a change in the wind for the museum, and a new direction for us moving forward,” says curator of Asian art Shawn Eichman.
The catalog is dedicated to Samuel A. Cooke, a pillar of Honolulu Museum of Art leadership. Cooke was a chair on the Board of Trustees, and the great-grandson of founder, Anna Rice Cooke. Director of communications Lesa Griffith—who edited the catalog—recalls his importance to the museum, “He had such a great hand in shaping the museum, it only seemed fitting to dedicate our first collection highlights since 1990 to him.”
Honolulu Museum of Art: Collection Highlights is now available at the Honolulu Museum of Art Shop for $29.95. Pick up your copy on your next visit!