Triple juxtaposition in the courtyard of Burlington House, Piccadilly, London: American house (as observed in my last blog), Sir Joshua Reynolds in statuesque form, and the huge poster for ‘Oceania’, the Royal Academy’s blockbuster exhibition this winter. And, in my untutored opinion, blockbuster it truly is. You should see it.
It’s a tremendous exhibition in two major respects: the large amount of original material culled from the southern Pacific and various collections in other parts of the world; and the display of it. Although many of the individual objects were new to me, in general I was familiar with the sort of material on display, having travelled a bit in those parts and also having spent a day in the Branley Museum in Paris soon after it opened. So I was ready to be impressed by the display itself, and that in no way disappointed.
The first main gallery illustrates the point:
Look at the canoes, fairly basic to life in Oceania, and note too the lighting – strong and blue. The row of turtles in the further canoe and the decoration both on it and the middle one anticipate delights – beliefs and intentional art and decoration – yet to comes in what is also a very large exhibition.
In fact it is far too large for me to do justice to so I have made a selection within a selection. I focus on human faces and bodies, and ignore practically everything else except for a few images at the end. The running order is that of the exhibition, linked in a series of themes such as communication and gift culture.
This sculpture in Ficus wood of two double figures and a quadruped, comes from Tahiti in the Society Islands, is dated about 1700, and was collected by Captain Cook himself between April and July, 1769, at the beginning of the ‘Encounter’ between the many different indigenous peoples and the West.
Right, I’m going to stop writing there for the moment since it is going to take hours to complete a text to accompany the remaining 13 images which have already been chosen. Though in a sense they speak for themselves.
Text to follow