Since 1959, the museum has intermittently offered art history-related courses. Then in 2014 the Honolulu Museum of Art School made it a regular part of class offerings, and since then the number of classes and topics has kept growing. People want to know more about art—it enriches the museum experience (and helps you win at Trivia Nights and Jeopardy auditions!). There are no prerequisites and these classes are anything but pretentious. Instructor Gary Liu, who started teaching at the Art School last year, describes his courses as a place where students get to “hang out for a couple hours and talk about art.”
This fall, Gary is co-teaching The American Mid-Century, a course designed to give participants a deeper understanding of our landmark exhibition Abstract Expressionism: Looking East from the Far West, opening Sept. 7. His teaching partner is the exhibition’s curator, Theresa Papanikolas, who is also the museum’s deputy director of art and programs.
This is Gary’s fourth semester teaching art history at the Art School, and this six-session course is a bit different from his previous classes. “Each week it’s going to be an hour with me in the classroom and then we will spend the second hour in the galleries,” he says. “Of course we will visit Abstract Expressionism, but we will also head to other galleries or parts of the collection that connect to the predecessors as well as the aftermath and the reactions to the movement.”
Taking the exhibition as a jumping off point, the course expands upon the traditional canonical understanding of Abstract Expressionism by connecting the movement to Asian art and the work of Hawai‘i-based artists. “In-class lectures will cover the most famous practitioners—Pollock, Rothko, De Kooning—and then there’s the Hawai‘i component with work by Bumpei Akaji, Harry Tsuchidana, and Tetsuo Ochikubo,” he says. The class will also feature guest lecturers like Stephen Salel, the Robert F. Lange curator of Japanese art.
Gary plans to incorporate more museum time into his future classes. “I like the collaboration between people who are working primarily on the gallery side and people like me who are spending time with our visitors and our members in the classroom,” he says. “One of the best assets for teaching an art history class that’s affiliated with a museum is the collections.”
While The American Mid-Century has already filled up, interested students can join the waitlist by emailing Art School registrar Kelsey Karsin at gro.muesumululonohnull@loohcstra. And you can take advantage of Gary’s knowledge in another class—Realms of Buddhist Art starts Nov. 3 and space is still available. Gary is also an accomplished musician—you can catch his band, the Drowning Dreamers, on Sept. 13 at Downbeat Lounge.