National Gallery of Australia to open gallery dedicated to the Pacific arts


Papua New Guinea, Western Highlands, Ambum Valley 'The Ambum stone' c.1500 BCE, greywacke stone, purchased 1977, collection of the National Gallery of AustraliaPapua New Guinea, Western Highlands, Ambum Valley 'The Ambum stone' c.1500 BCE, greywacke stone, purchased 1977, collection of the National Gallery of Australia

The National Gallery of Australia will confirm its commitment to the art of the Pacific region by launching the Pacific Arts Gallery on Wednesday 18 July 2007. 

The Pacific Arts Gallery, a dedicated permanent display, will open to the public showing forty works, including some of the rarest and finest traditional arts from the cultures of our nearest island neighbours.

With Australia’s geographical location, historical and present connections tomany of the countries of the Pacific, especially Papua New Guinea, the Pacific Arts Gallery gives Australians a rare opportunity to view works that include spirit masks, adornments and intricately carved sculptures. Materials including stone, wood, human hair, dog teeth, whale bone and organic weavings are used to create these works for both rituals and daily living. The works themselves are touchstones that reflect upon the traditional lives of our Pacific neighbours; some tell stories of creation, some are objects to quell and instruct young men during their teenage years and some have the ability to create life or take it away.

Many of these works have been part of the Gallery’s collections since its conception in the 1960s and include Pacific works which are the only examples of their kind in Australia. The sculptures, adornments, masks and architectural features which once were only of interest to scientific museums as documents to culture have, over time, become recognised in their own right as equal to masterpieces of art from any period or place in the history of humankind.

The traditional arts of the Pacific cover many countries from Papua New Guinea and The Solomon Islands to New Zealand and Hawaii. Works displayed suggest the entwined history of the pacific peoples with Australians. A sculptural representation of the heavyset, thick necked Assistant District Officer Harold Eustace Woodman is the only known pre World War II portrait of an Australian created by a Papua New Guinean.

Also displayed in the gallery are works internationally regarded for their visual force yet is little known that in their recent histories, these very same artworks helped to inspire the creativity of the influential artists and poets who owned them ― Sir Jacob Epstein, Paul Eluard and Surrealists Max Ernst and Andre Breton.

The majority of the Pacific Arts collection had remained in storage for many years until the appointment of a curator early in 2007. Now, a selection of these beautiful works that were hidden from view can be seen by visitors to the Gallery and admission is free.


On view         
Wednesday 18 July 2007
Pacific Art Gallery
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra


Media information and images
Alix Fiveash
+61 2 6240 6431