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Eighty-six year-old Honolulu Museum of Art unveils ten newly reinstalled galleries
Papanikolas not only reorganized the artwork, but also put into storage items that did not reflect the best of the museum’s collection.
HONOLULU.- The Honolulu Museum of Art has opened the last of 10 galleries that have been reinstalled over the past year. The project reimagines the 86-year-old museum’s collection of European and American art, against a backdrop of dramatic colors.

“This is a project that a curator dreams of,” says Theresa Papanikolas, Curator of European and American Art. “I’ve been planning this since I arrived at the museum four years ago. It’s so rewarding to see it come to fruition.”

Papanikolas’s reinstallation showcases the crème de la crème of the museum’s European and American art, telling the story of the history of art from antiquity to 1970 while presenting the works in engaging, arresting ways.

For example, the museum’s Impressionist and post-Impressionist works, such as Claude Monet’s Water Lilies, now shine even brighter in a white, airy gallery, no longer crowded in a small, low-ceilinged space.

Papanikolas not only reorganized the artwork, but also put into storage items that did not reflect the best of the museum’s collection, and brought out of storage works that do. In a bold move, she also transformed two galleries into rooms that invite the viewer to contemplate an overarching art theme—portraiture and the human form.

In the new Portraiture Gallery, Robert Dampier’s iconic 19th-century paintings of Kamehameha III and his sister Nahi‘ena‘ena, familiar to anyone who had a fourt-grade Hawaiian history class, rub shoulders with James McNeill Whistler’s Arrangement in Black No. 5: Lady Meux, raising questions of class, colonialism, and even costume. Visitors laugh out loud standing in front of the portrait of a grim-lipped 19th-century woman whose expression and posture mirror the adjacent 20th-century portrait of the artist Marisol Escobar by Alice Neel.

The gallery that formerly held works only from antiquity—such as Greek vases and Roman glass—now follows the history of the human body in art. The museum’s Roman ideal of a female draped figure from the 2nd century AD stands near Modigliani’s 1918 Seated Nude and Thomas Eakins’ William Rush and His Model, sparking conversations on how the nude isn’t simply a nude, but a reflection of an entire society and its cultural attitudes about the body, society, religion, and gender.

To put the reinstallation in a wider context, director Stephan Jost says, “You could be the wealthiest person in the world and not put together a collection of this quality today. The art is simply not available.” He is thrilled with how Papanikolas, with the aid of the museum's installation department, has presented the collection in a new light. “This is for the public and we hope we’ve put it together in a way that people find engaging.”

It’s like Honolulu has a whole new museum to explore. The new galleries are:

• Antiquity and the Body
• Medieval and Renaissance Art
• 17th-Century European Art
• Portraiture
• 18th-Century European Art
• Impressionist and Post-Impressionist Art
• Modernism (two galleries)
• Works on Paper
• Temporary Exhibition space: now on view is Masterworks from the Renaissance to Early 19th Century: Conservation at the Honolulu Museum of Art

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