The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Gift of Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1969
Not on view
The distinctive figures with lithe attenuated bodies and long beak-like noses created by the Kopar and Angoram peoples, who live near the mouth of the Sepik River in northeastern New Guinea, are said to portray powerful spirits. Such sculptures were reportedly part of the ritual paraphernalia used during dances performed as part of male initiations and other ceremonies. Their presence at these ritual events may have symbolized the participation of the spirits. Attached to lengths of bamboo—which survive on some examples but have been removed from the present work—the figures were carried in the hand as dance wands, or affixed to a framework that extended down the dancer's back.
This Angoram or Kopar figure from New Guinea was an early acquisition by Robert Goldwater. It had belonged to the early twentieth-century French collector and author Charles Stéphen-Chauvet, who included it in his influential 1930 book Les Arts Indigènes en Nouvelle Guinée, which helped define the canon of New Guinea art. It was later owned by the Surrealist artist Wolfgang Paalen, who, like many Surrealists, drew inspiration from Oceanic art. Goldwater was a pioneering scholar of the relationships between "Primitive" and Modern Art, and the figure's association with Paalen likely gave it additional appeal.
Charles Stéphen-Chauvet, Brussels, Belgium; Wolfgang Paalen; [Everett Rassiga, New York, until 1957]; Nelson A. Rockefeller, New York, 1957, on loan to The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1958–1969; Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1969–1978
Art of Oceania, Africa, and the Americas from the Museum of Primitive Art. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1969, no. 150.
Newton, Douglas, Julie Jones, and Kate Ezra. The Pacific Islands, Africa, and the Americas. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987, no. 6, p. 18.
Kjellgren, Eric. Oceania: Art of the Pacific Islands in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York and New Haven: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007, 56, 98.