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    Spirit Figure from New Guinea at the de Young

    09.15.16 FINAL.small.Nikko_Page_11_Image_0001Figures incorporating hook forms were part of an ancient New Guinea tradition extending from the upper reaches of the Sepik River to the Ramu River Valley, 1,000 miles to the east. For the people of the Karawari River, these figures represented powerful mythical ancestors who were of great importance in warfare, headhunting, and big-game hunting.

    This figure was created in the form of a much-attenuated human, displaying a bearded head, a body of hooks representing ribs, a single, straight heart in the center, and a single, bent leg at the base. Before entering the collection, the object was owned by the surrealist artist Roberto Matta.

    The striking spirit figure came to the de Young via a 2005 acquisition of more than three hundred masterworks of New Guinea art. That year marked a new and exciting area of focus for the Fine Arts Museums and turned the de Young into an important exhibition space for Oceanic art.

    This and the other objects in the collection represent some of the finest New Guinea art anywhere in the world. The gallery that houses them is the largest permanent installation of New Guinea works in any U.S. art museum. Most were gifts from Marcia and John Friede, or were purchases from the funds established by Mrs. Paul L. (Phyllis C.) Wattis. Six are held in trust for the country of Papua New Guinea as objects of national and cultural importance.

    Representing the hundreds of clans and art-producing villages throughout the island, this and the other related works have multivalent stories to share with visitors and scholars alike. The display reveals the deep history and breadth of New Guinea art styles and promises to transform the public perception of art from this region.