Exhibitions/ Art Object

Male Figure

16th–19th century
Papua New Guinea, Middle Sepik, Korewori River
Inyai-Ewa people
H. 47 1/2 x W. 5 x D. 7 in. (120.7 x 12.7 x 17.8 cm)
Credit Line:
The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection, Purchase, Nelson A. Rockefeller Gift, 1965
Accession Number:
Not on view
Figures of the Inyai-Ewa and neighboring groups of the upper Korewori River in New Guinea dating to the sixteenth century are the earliest form of Oceanic wood sculpture that survive in any substantial numbers. Several distinct types of these works are known. Two-legged male images of this variety likely depict primordial clan ancestors. Rendered with comparatively naturalistic upper and lower bodies, the figures have stylized openwork torsos, which depict the internal organs. The imagery of these early sculptures shows clear stylistic relationships to the later hook figures of the Yimam people, such as the one on view in the exhibition. Goldwater's astute eye and willingness to look beyond the existing canon and embrace previously unknown or underappreciated art forms is exemplified by the acquisition of this opposed hook figure from the Korewori River region of New Guinea. With their radical reorganization of the human anatomy, the figures caused a sensation among artists and collectors when they first emerged from New Guinea in the 1950s, shortly before this work was acquired from the Julius Carlebach Gallery in New York in 1959. Goldwater's foresight is demonstrated by the fact that these figures today are considered among the most iconic forms of Oceanic sculpture.
Father Heinemans, Catholic Mission, Wewak, Papua New Guinea, until 1965; The Museum of Primitive Art, New York, 1965–1978

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, 22, 55-6.

Kjellgren, Eric. How to Read Oceanic Art. How to Read 3. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014, p. 36.

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