Feb. 20, 2018

Media contacts:

Lesa Griffith

Tel: 808-532-8712

Adele Balderston
Tel: 808-532-8727


Hyperrealistic sculptures of real and fantastical animals contemplate mortality and capture beauty of nature; programs include artist talk

WHAT: Abstruction: The Sculpture of Erick Swenson
WHEN: March 1-July 29, 2018
WHERE: Honolulu Museum of Art, 900 S. Beretania St., Honolulu
COST: Museum admission $20 general admission; $10 Hawai‘i residents; youth 18 and under are free. Additional special exhibition admission: $10    
INFO: 808-532-8700, (publishable)
High-res images available on request.

HONOLULU, HAWAI‘I—The Honolulu Museum of Art presents the first museum survey of the work of artist Erick Swenson. Known for his remarkably lifelike and labor-intensive sculptures of animals—real and imaginary—created from cast urethane resin, the Dallas-based artist has created two new works for the exhibition.

Swenson’s sculptures often feature creatures in death or distress—such as a fawn being carried away by a large red cape, or a decomposing deer carcass. Other figures, while retaining a strongly individual sensibility, are displayed as hunting trophies or scientific specimens. The unique character of his creations, along with a meticulous attention to detail, even of less appealing organisms, such as a cluster of snails, evokes a reverence for these beings and their situations. These sculptures capture not only the tragedy, but the delicate and complex beauty of nature.

Swenson’s works share similarities with the genre of memento mori and vanitas pictures, first made popular in 17th-century Europe. Featuring elements such as skulls, decomposing fruit, and timepieces, they were intended to remind the viewer that life was temporary. The two new works in the exhibition, I Am What I Isn’t and Present in the Past, feature a skull and a hammerhead shark, respectively, and incorporate crystal formations. 

The skull functions as a Yorick-like memento mori, a reminder that no one can escape fate; while the hammerhead shark and the geode rocks, having existed for millions of years, emphasize humans’ blip on the planet’s timeline. 

“There is simply no other material that gives the kind of detailed results that I want,” Swenson says about working with resin-based materials. “There are no real limitations with using resins and making molds either.”

Swenson’s sculptures have a visual and emotional impact on multiple levels. We wonder how the artist constructed these pieces, feel for the creatures in distress, and are made uncomfortable by the stark reality of snails or decomposing flesh. At the same time the work celebrates the individuality to be found in nature, and encourages the viewer to appreciate this life while we have it. 

The exhibition is accompanied by a full-color catalog that includes a Q & A with the artist and an essay by Dallas-based writer and critic Thomas Maurstad. The book will be available in the Museum Shop for $19.95. 

This exhibition is made possible with generous support from The Taiji and Naoko Terasaki Family Foundation, Sharon Twigg-Smith, Judy Pyle and Wayne Pitluck, Tori Richard, Ltd., an anonymous donor, and an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. The museum thanks hospitality sponsor Halekulani and media sponsor FLUX Hawaii.


Lecture: Erick Swenson
Thursday, March 1, 5:30 – 6:30pm • Doris Duke Theatre • Free
Register online at
The Dallas-based artist speaks about his work and the techniques he uses to fabricate his detailed, life-like sculptures of animals. 

Mold-Making Workshop: Basic Techniques
Saturday, April 21, 9:30am–3:30pm • Learning + Engagement Gallery * $55 general / $45 museum members
Register at
Artist and teacher Linda Yamamoto shares mold-making techniques inspired by the techniques and works of Erick Swenson. Like Swenson, Linda uses processes of mold-making to create detailed works of art. Linda has been a lecturer at the University of Hawai‘i–Mānoa’s Department of Art and Art History for more than 20 years, teaching courses such as kinetic sculpture and 3-D sculpture. 

Panel Discussion: This Too Shall Pass: The work of Erick Swenson
May 19 • 2pm • Henry R. Luce Gallery • $20 general, $10 members
Register at
Guests can explore the exhibition then join in on a discussion of Erick Swenson’s work, which poses questions about mortality and the transient nature of life. His hyper-realistic sculptures remind us of our own mortality and the inherent beauty that lies within this truth. Darin Hayakawa, Environmental Microbiologist at the State Department of Health, and Alex Morrison, Senior Archaeologist at International Archaeological Research Institute, Inc. will respond to the exhibition and discuss mortality as it relates to their professions and experience. 

Tour + Talk Story: Abstruction
March 6, 8, 11
April 3, 5, 8
May 1, 3, 6
2:30 pm • Free with museum admission
Visitors can take a docent-led tour of the exhibition, getting insider information on the artist and his work, then participate in a lively discussion.

Special Effects film series

As a child Erick Swenson was a fan of horror movies and his artwork is inspired by their special effects—especially the work of special effects pioneer Dick Smith. See on the big screen some of Dick Smith's greatest work in these three films. 

The Exorcist + The Devil and the Father Amorth
Directed by William Friedkin. 1973 / 2018. 180 min. 
Sunday April 29 at 3pm • $15, $12 museum member 
William Friedkin's genre-busting film about a teenage girl possessed by a mysterious entity terrified the nation and had people barfing in the aisles. Audiences can see the gory glory then see Friedkin's new documentary. Forty-five years after filming The Exorcist, the director travels to Italy to capture a real-life exorcism by a Vatican exorcist.  

The Hunger 
Directed by Tony Scott. 1983. 100 min.
Thursday May 7 at 7:30pm  
$12, $10 museum member
Movie goers won't want to miss this chance to see the sexiest horror film ever made—with a young David Bowie, Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve cavorting to Bauhaus's Bela Lugosi's Dead.  A love triangle develops between a beautiful yet dangerous vampire, her cellist companion, and a gerontologist. Dick Smith's special effect at the end gave "aging" a whole new meaning.



Help Save Paper—convert to the Museum’s E-mail press list.

To UNSUBSCRIBE, please click here.

To join, e-mail , or call (808) 532-6091.

About the Honolulu Museum of Art

One of the world’s premier art museums, the Honolulu Museum of Art presents international caliber special exhibitions and features a collection that includes Hokusai, van Gogh, Gauguin, Monet, Picasso and Warhol, as well as traditional Asian and Hawaiian art.

Located in two of Honolulu’s most beautiful buildings, visitors enjoy two cafés, gardens, and films and concerts at the theater. The museum is dedicated to bringing together great art and people to create a more harmonious, adaptable, and enjoyable society in Hawai’i.


Honolulu Museum of Art: 900 S. Beretania Street
Honolulu Museum of Art Spalding House: 2411 Makiki Heights Drive
Honolulu Museum of Art School: 1111 Victoria Street
Honolulu Museum of Art at First Hawaiian Center: 999 Bishop Street
Honolulu Museum of Art Doris Duke Theatre: 901 Kinau Street (at rear of museum)


Honolulu Museum of Art: Tues–Sun 10 am–4:30pm; closed Monday.

Honolulu Museum of Art Spalding House: Tues–Sun 10am–4pm; closed Monday.

Admission (permits entry to both museums on the same day):

$20 general admission; $10 Hawai‘i residents and active duty military living in Hawai‘i; children 18 and under are free.

There’s a lot happening at the Museum!

See a film

See our exhibitions

Take a tour