The National Gallery of Victoria believes that it is vital to honour the art and culture of the Pacific so that it will be perceived here in Melbourne as one of the world’s great art traditions that continues to develop and is open to change. To that end the NGV opened its first Oceanic gallery at NGV International in December 2003. The Oceanic gallery enabled the NGV to create a Pacific presence on the ground floor but the scale of the permanent gallery did not do justice to the importance of Pacific Islander art or to the NGV’s vision for the Asia Pacific region that embraces Indigenous Australia, the Pacific and Asia. On 28 May 2011, synchronous with the NGV’s 150th anniversary, the Gallery is opening to the public a modern permanent space dedicated to Art of the Pacific with a special focus on the work of living artists. In this dynamic white cube, art of the Pacific moves out of its darkened cul-de-sac and into a light-filled 21st century space with a 5 metre ceiling.
The new Art of the Pacific gallery aims to introduce viewers to the cultural diversity, vitality and spirit resonance of Oceanic art and to some of its universe of forms, both old and new. A feature of the current display is that many of the originally highly mobile objects, some ingeniously made from a profusion of organic materials, are on open display where they can resonate as images in space, rather than being isolated in glass cases. Context and cultural meaning are also vital principles that we honour in the Pacific gallery.
This inaugural Pacific display features barkcloth by Ömie women artists and body ornaments by Melbourne-based Samoan artist Maryanne Talia Pau, challenging commonly held misconceptions that the artist in Oceanic society is anonymous and male, and that the best works are ritual objects located in an ancient, immutable past. Other highlights include contemporary Temar figures from Ambrym, Vanuatu, a metal Phantom shield from the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, paintings by Shane Cotton and John Pule and a nineteenth century Kanak mask.