As Honolulu Biennial Grows, High-Profile Hirshhorn Museum Director Will Curate 2021 Edition

Melissa Chiu.

Melissa Chiu.


The Honolulu Biennial, a well-regarded biennial focused on artists hailing from the Pacific region, has lined up the director for its 2021 edition: Melissa Chiu.

Chiu is currently the director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., and was known for her work on the Asian contemporary art—one of the Honolulu Biennial’s focuses—before joining the museum in 2014. She was previously the museum director and senior vice president of the Asia Society in New York, where she mounted exhibitions about Yoshitomo Nara, Dinh Q. Lê, Zhang Huan, and others, as well as a survey of new work by Asian-American artists. She also edited the book Contemporary Art in Asia: A Critical Reader (2010), formed the Asia Contemporary Art Consortium, and organized the first Asia Contemporary Art Week, in 2002.

Born in Darwin, Australia, Chiu has also been integral in her home country’s art scene. She was the founding director of the 4A Centre of Contemporary Asian Art, an important art space in Sydney that showcases work by emerging artists.

Katherine Ann Leilani Tuider, the executive director of the Honolulu Biennial Foundation, said in a statement, “Dr. Chiu is key figure in building the global dialogue around contemporary art of the Asia-Pacific region, and we look forward to the conversations and connections she will advance for the Honolulu Biennial in 2021.”

The 2021 exhibition will be the Honolulu Biennial’s third edition. In comparison to other biennial-style exhibitions on the international circuit, the Honolulu Biennial is a relatively small affair, but its importance for the local art scene and economy is difficult to understate—a report on the 2017 edition in Pacific Business News said that the show brought in $50 million to the local economy. (By contrast, the Front International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art, which launched last year and is roughly three times the Honolulu Biennial’s size, reportedly generated $31 million.) The Honolulu Biennial has been expanding as well—its 2019 edition featured more venues and artists than its 2017 one.

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