The Contemporary Museum of Honolulu was the only museum in Hawaii solely dedicated to displaying contemporary art. TCMHI had two locations – one at the Hawaiian First Center in Downtown Honolulu and another at the historic Spalding House in Makiki Heights. The museum intended to display dynamic and provocative forms of significant visual art created from the 1940s until present day, featuring many artists from Hawaii or whom created a series of art on the islands. Curators of the museum organized and invited exhibitions that balanced the types of media displayed, various aesthetic points of view, the origin of the art, and the notoriety of the artists featured. The museum also featured a large number of galleries with various exhibitions, a store, a café, and even a library with educational programs.

This website is dedicated to the Contemporary Museum of Honolulu, but it is not the official website. We are simply fans of the museum who wanted to inform others about it. We hope that you enjoy learning about this wonderful museum!

The Two Locations of TCMHI

The Contemporary Museum of Honolulu had two primary locations – one in the historic Spalding House and another in the First Hawaiian Center. The museum’s main location was at the Spalding House in Makiki Heights. This location featured contemporary art from the 1940s until the present day, and it also served as a historical site by maintaining the building and garden for visitors’ enjoyment. This museum contained five main galleries – the William Twigg-Smith Gallery, the Samuel N. and Mary Castle Foundation Gallery, the John Young Gallery, the Laila Twigg-Smith Gallery, and the John Hodson Connors Family Gallery. It also contained the Contemporary Café, which was a gallery in and of itself, as well as the museum shop and library.

TCMHI also had a branch at the First Hawaiian Center in downtown Honolulu. The First Hawaiian Center is the world headquarters of the First Hawaiian Bank, and it is the tallest building in Hawaii. The First Hawaiian Bank invited TCMHI to open a gallery here and completely underwrote the whole project, intending to give residents of downtown Honolulu a convention location to view contemporary art made by Hawaiians or visiting artists who created a series in Hawaii. The gallery was location in the main banking hall as well as on the second floor of the building, and it was enclosed by a dramatic art glass wall.

About the Spalding House

The Contemporary Museum of Honolulu’s primary location was housed inside of the historic Spalding House. Sometimes referred to as the Cooke-Spalding House, this historic building was constructed in 1925 as a residence for Anna Rice Cooke. The initial design was made by architect Hart Wood, but two residential remodels occurred between 1925 and 1950 by both Bertram Goodhue and Associates and Vladimir Ossipoff. The famous gardens were landscaped by Reverend K. H. Inagaki, a Christian minister of Japanese descent. The minister spent over a decade transforming the grounds into a traditional Japanese walking garden, but his work abruptly finished after he disappeared when visiting family in Japan in 1941.

Anna Rice Cooke passed the house on to her daughter, Alice Spalding, following her death. Once Spalding passed in 1968, she bequeathed the house unto the Honolulu Museum of Art. The museum operated the Spalding House as an annex that displayed Japanese prints until the late 1970s, and it then sold the property to a subsidiary of the Honolulu Advertiser. From 1979 until 1980, James C. Hubbard, a landscape architect, revived the gardens, but the property sat largely dormant for most of the decade. Then, in 1986, the Thurston Twigg-Smith family converted the house into the Contemporary Museum of Honolulu, and they permitted the construction of the Milton Cades Pavillion as well as Leland Miyano’s transformation of the gardens into an outdoor sculpture hall.

The Spalding House served as the main location for the Contemporary Museum of Honolulu until 2011. TCMHI was then absorbed by the Honolulu Museum of Art, and the name of the museum changed to the Honolulu Museum of Art Spalding House. However, despite this change in ownership, the Spalding House continues to hold primarily contemporary art, and much of the building’s structures and features have not changed dramatically.

The Contemporary Café

One of the Contemporary Museum’s most interesting features was the Contemporary Café at its main location in Makiki Heights. At the café, visitors could choose to sit indoors in the café gallery or outside in the garden while enjoying lunch, coffee, or dessert. The café also offered a picnic service that would serve guests who wanted to have a picnic on the lawn or in the gardens. At the café, visitors to the Contemporary Museum of Honolulu could enjoy hummus and pita or a hot cup of coffee after walking through the five main galleries.

The most interested aspect of the Contemporary Café was its rotating exhibits. These exhibits featured a number of local, lesser-known artists as well as a handful of traveling exhibits. One exhibit, for example, featured an exchange between print artists in Honolulu and Kona. The café also featured student art from the University of Hawaii, such as a mask series by first-year art students. These exhibits made the café a gallery in and of itself.

Art Education and Public Programs

The Contemporary Museum of Honolulu also offered a number of educational resources and programs for free or low-cost public access, including the Cades Library, teacher resources, and public art education sessions and programs. The Cades Library held over 800 volumes of information about contemporary art and artists, and it often featured books from current or recent exhibitions. The public generally needed to schedule an appointment, but students and scholars from nearby universities could access the Library within a limited timeframe.

TCMHI also actively supported teachers looking to more thoroughly incorporate art into their curriculums. Teachers could access the museum free of charge, and if they chose to bring their students on a field trip, they could rent an educational kit with activities and information for only a refundable deposit. Teachers could also invite mobile exhibitions to their schools, and they could attend seminars that ranged from teaching techniques to better implementing state fine arts standards.

The museum also provided a wide range of programs for the public to attend. TCMHI hosted programs for children such as summer arts courses as well as monthly “expression sessions,” Saturday art classes hosted by local artists and educators, and it even held sessions for Girl Scouts earning merit badges. For adults, TCMHI offered free museum tours at certain times per day, and it frequently held workshops, gallery talks, and lectures from staff and visiting artists. Overall, these public programs worked to promote art within Hawaii and Honolulu.

A Note About this Website

We are fans of contemporary art and museums who created this website about the Contemporary Museum of Honolulu in order to inform others about this awesome project. Therefore, we are not the official website of this museum and are not affiliated with it in any way.

We felt that this museum was incredibly unique in its dual locations, educational programs, and added features. The dual location provided visitors with two great options – visiting a historical site in the suburbs or heading downtown to an accessible gallery of local work. The museum also provided a massive wealth of educational resources to student, teachers, and the public. Students could freely access the library, and teachers could visit for free and even attend training sessions. The museum also provided many public programs for both children and adults. Finally, its features like the Contemporary Café capped off an interesting visitor experience.

We hope you have enjoyed reading about the Contemporary Museum of Honolulu and are inspired to learn more about museums and contemporary art!