Jean Charlot as Critic Art in Hawaiʻi, 1950–1970

Shirley Russell, "Pali Panorama," before 1964, 42 x 39”, Oil on canvas, Courtesy of the Howard Hughes Corporation


Jean Charlot as Critic: Art in Hawaiʻi, 1950–1970

August 27, 2023 – December 3, 2023

John Young Museum of Art, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

While Jean Charlot is best known as a painter and educator, the exhibition Jean Charlot as Critic: Art in Hawai‘i, 1950–1970, focuses on the local art he wrote about for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Honolulu’s newspaper of record. In a city without many other active art critics, Charlot’s account provides some of the only written record of Honolulu’s emergent art scene during the decades following World War Two. Many of the artists he wrote about at length would comprise the first edition of the iconic Artists of Hawai‘i (1974), including Isami Doi, Kenneth Bushnell, Juliette May Fraser, Sueko Kimura, Ben Norris, Louis Pohl, Shirley Russell, Tadashi Sato, Edward Stasack, and Tseng Yu-ho.

Charlot’s criticism documents the flourishing of institutional and private exhibitions in the 1950s, and the explosion of an independent Honolulu gallery scene during the early 1960s through reviews of new exhibition spaces including Gima’s, Arthur Trask’s The Collector’s Gallery, Loring’s, and Storm’s. We also see the rise of the notion of the “Kama‘āina” artist and the “Artists of Hawai‘i,” terms which still have currency today. Charlot’s scope as a local critic was omnivorous—he ran the art page each Wednesday and there he reviewed traveling museum exhibitions, juried amateur shows, exhibitions of children’s art, and annual themed exhibitions like Flora Pacific. As a critic, Charlot was an enthusiast rather than a nay-sayer, and was almost always positive, shining the light of a good review on dozens of small exhibitions that might have gone overlooked by the Honolulu public. He believed in the possibility of art in Hawai‘i, and saw it as his role to document the growing scene. In documenting local art and writing about it each week for decades, Charlot’s criticism shaped the very idea of art in Hawai‘i.

Jean Charlot (1898–1979) came of age in Paris in the early decades of the twentieth century; he studied at the prestigious Lycée Condorcet and the École des Beaux-Arts, and later exhibited in the 1921 Salon d’Automne. He moved to Coyoacán, near Mexico City, in 1921. As Charlot’s wife Zohama wrote of Coyoacán at that time, “many of the people we met were involved with [the Mexican Renaissance of the 1920s] through their own art, writing, or teaching.” Charlot lived and worked alongside José Orozco, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Tina Modotti, artists who became his closest friends and influences. Charlot moved to New York in 1928, where he exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art (in 1949, 1954, 1955) and taught and exhibited at the Art Student’s League. Charlot moved to Honolulu in 1949, and for seventeen years served as a professor of art in the Department of Art at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. He remains one of the department’s most significant and illustrious faculty members.

Charlot primarily worked as a painter, printmaker, and educator. As an author, Charlot was awarded two Guggenheim Fellowships (1944, 1946) for his research on Mexican muralism (later published as The Mexican Mural Renaissance, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963). He wrote on art for Art News, The College Art Journal, The American Scholar, Creative Art, Magazine of Art, and other national venues as well as for numerous exhibition catalogs. He also published over one hundred fifty pieces of art criticism in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin between 1952–1971. A two-volume anthology of Charlot’s journal publications, An Artist on Art: Collected Essays of Jean Charlot was published by the University of Hawai‘i Press in 1972. His last article, “José Guadalupe Posada and His Successors,” in the catalog Posada’s Mexico, was published by the Library of Congress and Amon Carter Museum of American Art the year of his death, in 1979.

This exhibition is curated by Dr. Maika Pollack, Director and Chief Curator of the John Young Museum and University Galleries, on leave Fall 2023. Thanks to the John Young Foundation for its generous support of this exhibition. Thanks to Joyce Okano, Harry Oda, Fred Tanaka, Deborah Young, Heidi Berman, Juli Kimura Walters, Sandra Pohl, Judith and Paul Nelson, Mark Fukanaga, Ann Benson Reidy, H. Brian Moore, the Phil and Marcia Samulski Collection, the Roger and Masako Bellinger Collection, Gregory Dunn, Larry Rowland, the State Foundation on Culture and The Arts, and the Howard Hughes Foundation. Thanks also to the staff of the University Galleries and John Young Museum of Art: Debra Drexler, Acting Director, Sheika Alghezawi, Assistant Director, David Kiyabu, Gallery Exhibition Coordinator, Mia Zheng, Curatorial Graduate Assistant, Hala Megahy, Installation Graduate Assistant, Kai Higuchi, Olivia Ambo, Roland Longstreet, Junco Sato Pollack, and the staff of the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.

The JOHN YOUNG MUSEUM OF ART is located in Krauss Hall at 2500 Dole Street Honolulu, Hawai‘i 96822 (Directions).

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