Los Angeles

Roy James Hedlund Collection, Melanesian Art

The Emerson Gallery, Encino

Though first-rate examples of New Guinea art are rare, this selection is of recent but sound, representative quality, made up of highly unusual items. Showing a small sampling of pieces collected over the last six years during three expeditions by the youthful Hedlund, they are presented as from perhaps the last available major holdings.

Typical of most primitive work the primary quality is a durable and marvelous vitality. At one time distant, abstract, and unusual in their forms, proportions and iconography, the ancestral figures from Burui and Maprik Hills for instance are also assertive in their symmetrically organized forms and sharp rhythms, and their dominating presence. The pieces, free-standing heads, full figures, and shield-like village standards, vary in size but each is as potent as the next.

Two diabolical masks from Timbunke (the larger a masterwork) are veritable catalogs of natural substances assembled and fully integrated, and are a tribute to the personified forces of evil. Equally unusual are the conical basketry masks used in yam and initiation ceremonies.

Several Burui figures and a Tambaran roof ornament represent a surprising degree of plasticity. The latter, resembling a sailing ship figurehead, demonstrates a high level of craft and preconception in rendering a complex group (a winged bird surmounting a spirit figure) from a single piece of wood. A four foot high Kambot dancing mask, a transitional figure of St. Gabriel, and a group of pastel-colored New Britain shields round out and point up the diversity.

Fidel A. Danieli