Ancestors of the Lake: Art of Lake Sentani and Humboldt Bay, New Guinea
Figure, Standing Man, 19th-20th century
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection,
Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection,
Bequest of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1979 (1979.206.144)
Copy photograph © The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Source: Art Resource, NY
May 6–August 28, 2011
European navigators began traveling to the coastal areas of New Guinea in the sixteenth century, but it was not until 1858 that the Dutch Etna Expedition reached Humboldt Bay and Lake Sentani island (situated on the north coast of the island in the present-day Indonesian province of Papua). Major scientific and surveying expeditions followed. Throughout the nineteenth century, Western visitors to New Guinea saw and collected works by artists living in those regions. Collectors in the West greatly admired the highly stylized and abstracted forms of wooden sculptures and the decorative designs of barkcloths (maro), and Surrealist artists in Europe found inspiration in them.
Ancestors of the Lake: Art from Lake Sentani and Humboldt Bay, New Guinea brings together many of these important pieces for the first time. In the 1903 Netherlands New Guinea Expedition, surgeon G.A.J. van der Sande was commissioned to make a physical anthropological survey, resulting in a detailed illustrated publication, photographs, and collections now held in Dutch museums. Paul Wirz, a Swiss ethnologist who visited New Guinea in the 1920s, published an important book about Sentani culture, collected sculptures, and made photographs and films of the region and its people. The art of these waterside communities received greatest acclaim in the West in the 1930s, when the French writer and art dealer Jacques Viot presented his significant collection of New Guinea in Paris and New York. In 1959 the the Museum of Primitive Art in New York presented the first major survey of these regional art styles at New York’s Museum of Primitive Art; a catalogue by Simon Kooijman accompanied that groundbreaking exhibition.
Ancestors of the Lake: Art from Lake Sentani and Humboldt Bay, New Guinea will include approximately fifty works, uniting Jacques Viot’s collection with equally superior examples of Sentani and Humboldt Bay art gathered by Wirz and others. Works from the Menil Collection will also be featured, along with domestic and international loans from public and private sources. A catalogue will accompany the exhibition, edited by curator Virginia-Lee Webb and including essays by leading scholars of the art and historical photographs of Sentani and Humboldt Bay.
This exhibition is generously supported by Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne, National Endowment for the Arts, Anne S. Brown, Ballard Exploration Company, Inc., George and Mary Josephine Hamman Foundation, Dedalus Foundation, Bettie Cartwright, Pride International, Inc., Stardust Fund, Texan-French Alliance for the Arts, W.S. Bellows Construction Corporation, and the City of Houston and by proceeds from Men of Menil. Exhibition underwriter United Airlines is the Preferred Airline of the Menil Collection.