New Ireland, art of the South Pacific

Saint-Louis, Quai Branly, Dahlem-Berlin 2006-2007


The most important exhibit to date dedicated to art from New Ireland has been presented in three different museums in the period 2006-2007. This exhibit, has been curated by Michael Gunn (Saint Louis, SLAM), Philippe Peltier (Paris, quai Branly) and Markus Schindlbeck (Berlin Dalhem). One interesting aspect was that, even if a large fraction of the artifacts have been presented at all the three locations, each exhibit has its own specific style. Berlin clearly had the largest number of objects, which is not surprising hosting it its reserve about 5000 New Ireland artifacts out of the 20 000 referenced worldwide. Saint Louis had somehow the smallest space, but established nicely correspondance between artifacts (for example male and female figures of the same types), and had a spectacular display of the large Malagan Canoe from Stuttgart alone in a room. The last room of the exhibit being the Uli figures, and a wawara, to leave a striking impression to the visitor. Indeed, it was very strong ! Quai Branly had a stunning display of the master pieces in a large room (Stuttgart and Dresden Malagan canoes facing each other), with maybe the most elaborate interplay between light and the objects. In contrast with Saint Louis, the last artifact was a small magical device (looking like a fly fishing implement somehow) made out feathers, maybe giving a more poetic final.

It may be not difficult to do a spectacular exhibit with New Ireland artifacts, but  the curators did not choose the easy way : They searched the rarest and most exquisite pieces available from public and private collections. If you are discovering New Ireland art, you will find it superb. If you know well New Ireland art, you will be stunned by the quality of the selection, and the quest for the rarest forms. These three exhibit were truly land marks. Unfortunately, the different objects are back to their collections of origin or to Museum reserves. Which display was the best ? After several visits to each of the three location, we cannot conclude, all the three were different, stunning and a wonderful tribute to the people from New Ireland and their old traditions.

The catalogue of the exhibit (English, French and German editions) is currently the best available source of information on the art of New Ireland.

New Ireland: Art of the South Pacific, 2006, Gunn and Peltier, 5 Continents Editions.

A movie presenting the Malagan ceremony for the Chief Joel Petsia from Tabar Islands was presented in Paris and Berlin (photos from Tabar are available here).

Visit to Saint Louis art Museum website to hear Michael Gunn describing and explaining some pieces.

Here after you will find pictures taken in the Berlin opening ceremony, and following days. It is to give you a feeling about the overall setup.

On the right, you can see the Stutgart Canoe, a 5m long Malagan.



Opening speech, followed by a  rather busy openning night...


A 4m tall Malagan carving from Tabar, collected in 1880s, that was resting in the reserve of a museum in Sydney...

Valik Malagan, with the "Metelin" or "Eye of Fire" motive.

Left : two of the three known Wawara collected before WWI. One has an overmodeled skull presented in.

Right : Wawaras, Uli figures from Lelet plateau (about 300 are known today), and unique wooden panels of a women's house showing the maternity stages.


One of the oldest known New Ireland mask, and a Uli figure.

Some links about the exhibition:

French : Le Monde, blog,  Site artscape,

English : Berlin Museum (movies),

English, the exhibits : Saint Louis Art Museum, Paris Musée du quai Branly, Berlin Museum

German : Berlin Museum (movies),