LACMA's Pacific Island Collection Now Online
The objects won't be on view until late summer, but LACMA's website has posted images of last summer's signal acquisition, the Masco collection of Pacific Island art. (Above, a canoe prow from Cenderawasih Bay, c. 1890.) Taylor, Mich.-based Masco Corporation makes plumbing fixtures, kitchen cabinets, home workstations, and entertainment centers. The name also refers to the private Masco Corporation Foundation of CEO Richard Manoogian and its Oceanic art collection, assembled largely on the advice of Detroit Institute of Arts curator Michael Kan. Manoogian is best known for his stunning collection of nineteenth-century American painting. His Pacific Island pieces toured in a DIA-organized 1995 show. That exhibition and its catalog burnished the Masco's reputation as the Frick collection of Oceanic art. It's not big, but everything is darned near perfect. The DIA hoped to be given the Oceanic collection (and the American collection, too, many works of which are on loan in Detroit). Last year, Manoogian's foundation dashed one of these wishes when it sold 46 Pacific Island pieces to LACMA.
Actually, the foundation had been selling off its Oceanic collection for some time. This raised the question of what LACMA was getting—the cream, the dross, or somewhere in-between? The 2008 LACMA press release mentioned some of the best and rarest works, a crazy-"mannerist" Easter Island ancestor figure (pictured) and a Brancusi-worthy dance paddle; a Solomon Island shield comparable to the Met's; a life-size New Ireland hermaphrodite deaccessioned by the Linden Museum, Stuttgart (it was one of two similar pieces).
The LACMA website now confirms that Los Angeles got the cream or most of it. Quality is fantastic, and sizes range from a few inches to half a dozen feet. There are enough great pieces to make permanent display imperative (I hope).