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Spirits and Head hunters: Art of the Pacific Islands


Spirits and Head hunters: Art of the Pacific Islands

Opening February 20, exhibit features 200+ masterpieces from obscure areas of the world.

Santa Ana, Calif. – The Pacific Ocean, with an estimated 25,000 sparsely populated islands, includes some of the most remote, diverse and culturally complex societies known to us today. Easter Island, home of the giant stone moai figures, is more than 5,000 miles from its closest neighbor. New Guinea, the world’s second largest island, is home to over 600 -- or a third -- of the world’s languages. The art associated with these islands has an extraordinary history, having undergone the systematic destruction by missionaries 100 years ago. The art is also a subject observed by and exhibited alongside the masters of modernism in fine art museums.

Today the Art of the Pacific is receiving the individual attention it deserves. Bowers Museum presents “Spirits and Headhunters: Art of the Pacific Islands,” opening February 20, 2010. It is one of the four significant museum exhibitions highlighting the art and culture of the Pacific Islands to open in California in the last few years. Important exhibitions of Pacific Island art can now be seen in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and now Santa Ana, making the West Coast the premier location for viewing this powerful and captivating art. The Bowers’ exhibition explores the arts of the three major cultural subdivisions of the Pacific -- Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia – and has been in the planning for almost 10 years.

“Spirits and Headhunters” presents more than 200 works of art dating mostly from the 18th through the 20th century and range from miniature to monumental. In the Pacific, realism is rarely found and vivid graphic abstractions and symbolic human and animal representations of spirits are found everywhere. Frigate bird and crocodile imagery is commonly seen on bowls and huge drums. Placed in the secret men’s houses next to the skulls of ancestors and victims of headhunting raids, some spirit carvings surprisingly take the form of smiling figures. Brilliant mother-of-pearl shell inlays, human tooth necklaces, carved jade ornaments, and highly polished wood that reflects like a mirror, are a few examples of the diversity of materials on display in the exhibition.

Especially important is a 19th century chief’s stool from the Austral Islands elegant enough to be a piece of contemporary furniture today; an unusually large 19th century feast bowl depicting a tiki figure at its base from the mysterious Marquesas Islands culture; one of the largest known house doorboards from a Telefomin village, Papua New Guinea made famous by a postcard showing it in use; a New Ireland sculpture of a skeletal fish spirit by New Ireland’s most recognized carver Ben Sisia; an 18th century Māori jade amulet of a fiercely expressive spirit with eyes highlighted in red sealing wax obtained through trade with Westerners to New Zealand; a huge shell ring valuable used as currency on the island of New Britain comprised of thousands of tiny shells; and also from New Britain one of the most complete collections of the large-eyed fire dance masks from the Baining people.
“Spirits and Headhunters” is curated by noted photographer Chris Rainier, well known for his dramatic black and white photography of indigenous peoples, especially in the Pacific. Mr. Rainier’s work plays an important role in the exhibition as many of his most iconic images are used to help create the Pacific experience and bring the objects to life.

Spirits are everywhere in the daily life of a Pacific Islander, making each object more than just what it appears to be, according to Mr. Rainier. The Bowers also called on the assistance of noted New Guinea experts, Michael Hamson and Lesley Martin, for the selection of the exhibition’s objects, which are drawn mostly from the Bowers’ permanent collection, with important loans of rare Easter Island materials from the collections of Mark and Carolyn Blackburn; a variety of Melanesian art from Gayle and Edward Roski as well as Anne and Danny Shih; and ancient Lapita ceramics from the Bishop Museum, Hawaii.

Spirits and Headhunters: Art of the Pacific Islands February 20th – ongoing.
Museum Members’ opening Friday, February 19th 7-9 pm, free to Bowers’ Museum Members

Distinguished Lecture

Where Masks Still Dance: New Guinea by Chris Rainier, Feb. 20, 1:30 p.m. Chris Rainier, acclaimed documentary photographer, shares stories about a culture that has one foot in the garden of Eden and one foot in the technology and challenges of
the 21st century. Free to Bowers Members and with paid admission to the museum; $8 for lecture only.

About Bowers Museum

Opened in 1936, Bowers Museum is an internationally-known institution of art and culture dedicated to the preservation, study, and exhibition of fine arts from around the world. To achieve its mission to “enrich lives through the world’s finest arts and cultures,” the Bowers offers exhibitions from many of the world’s greatest collections as well as insightful lectures, art classes, travel programs, children’s art and music education programs, and other community programs. The Bowers has organized many culturally significant exhibitions, including Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor, Secret World of the Forbidden City, Dead Sea Scrolls, Egyptian Treasures of The British Museum, and Tibet: Treasures from the Roof of the World. The museum’s permanent collection is particularly strong in the areas of African, South Pacific, Asian, Native American, Pre-Columbian art, and California Plein-air painting.
Location, Hours, and Admission: Bowers Museum is located at 2002 North Main Street, Santa Ana, CA 92706. Hours: Tuesday–Sunday, 10 am–4 pm.

Admission is $12 adults; $9 students and seniors over 62; and children under 6 are free. Check pricing for special-ticketed exhibits at 714.567.3600 or www.bowers.org.
Bowers Kidseum, located two blocks south of the main museum, offers multifaceted art and cultural educational experiences for young children, their families, and the community. Kidseum is dedicated to providing children a fun environment where imagination and creativity are not only encouraged, but nurtured. Kidseum is located at 1802 North Main Street Santa Ana, CA 92706. Hours: Tuesday– Friday, 10 am–3 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 11 am–4 pm. Admission is $6 adults and children 3 and up; and kids under 3 are free. For more, call 714.480.1520 or visit www.bowers.org.

 


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