A Restoration Project

In 2008, Edmund Carpenter and I made it a special, sub rosa agenda for his exhibition Upside Down: Les Arctiques at the Musée du quai Branly in Paris, to reunite some of these divorced masks. The Louvre demurred lending the masks once owned by Breton, for it had so recently put them on permanent display, and they are now considered significant artifacts of French art history. So we borrowed three matched pairs still in the National Museum of the American Indian collection, and reunited two other mask pairs. Two Twitchell masks still in the NMAI were joined with their sundered mates found elsewhere: one in the Musee du quai Branly collection (formerly owned by Robert Lebel), and the other belonging to Carpenter himself, on long term loan to the Menil Collection, Houston.

Unfortunately, when a reconstruction of the Upside Down exhibition was mounted in 2011 at the Menil, we were unable to replicate these reunions in Houston, though the exhibition did include two nepcetaq (shaman’s) masks from a private collection. This pair had never been separated, but neither were they Twitchell/NMAI masks, and were of a very different form and character.

So, aside from the 2008 exhibition in Paris, none of the separated pairs of Yup’ik composite dance masks from the Twitchell collection has ever been reunited. Until now.

Well, first of all, we feel privileged that the [masks] were saved. Because…now they are now being appreciated by the wider world…. Now they’ve become part of our world heritage: not just us Yup’iks. I mean, they intrigued the Surrealists—because they realized that there was something beyond just the physical piece. [The masks] spoke volumes to them.
Chuna McIntyre