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The Art of the Pacific Islands

July 1, 1979 – February 7, 1980
East Building, Concourse (18,000 sq. ft.)

Installation view of The Art of the Pacific Islands, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Gallery Archives

This exhibition is no longer on view at the National Gallery.

Overview: More than 400 figures, masks, canoe ornaments, shields and weapons, ceremonial implements, carved house posts, shell ornaments, and feather capes from Polynesia, Micronesia, Melanesia, and New Guinea were exhibited. These objects were made before or collected at the earliest contact by Westerners. Douglas Newton, chairman of the department of primitive art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, was in charge of the selections from 83 lenders around the world.

Organization: The objects of wood, ivory, fiber, feathers, bone, and shell were arranged in 26 historical or geographical sections in 21 spaces. The exhibition was designed by Gaillard Ravenel, Mark Leithauser, and Douglas Newton. Gordon Anson designed the lighting. Earl A. Powell III and Ravenel were the exhibition coordinators.

Sponsor: Before the opening, a preview luau in which pigs were roasted in an open pit on the Mall was held with appropriate incantations. During one week in January, dances were presented twice daily by a Hawaiian group, Hula Halau o Hoakalei, sponsored by the State Council on Hawaiian Heritage and the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts. Continental Airlines, Inc., provided transportation from the Pacific areas.

Attendance: 393,509

Catalog: The Art of the Pacific Islands, by Peter Gathercole, Adrienne L. Kaeppler, and Douglas Newton. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art, 1979.

Download a free PDF of the exhibition catalog (PDF 99.58MB)