The de Young’s Jolika Collection of New Guinea Art: Imperilled by the Auction Block

I have to confess: I had to be escorted out of the space dedicated to the Jolika Collection of New Guinea art in San Francisco’s de Young musuem.

Not for wrongdoing but because the spirits in that space possessed me.  And I hasten to add: as a film professor, author, and modest art collector, I have my feet on the ground.

On more than one occasion a piece in the collection has riveted me in place.  Energy passed between us and I could not move.  The first time it happened I could not pass out of the room on my own and asked a Pacific Islander, serving as a museum guard, to escort me. He did and I was able to leave. I told him what happened and said to him the space was extremely spiritual and he replied, “I know.”

To me, the Jolika Collection is the greatest treasure in the museum.  Not just for its stunning beauty and remarkable range but for its deeply spiritual quality as well. I have seen Maori pass through talking among themselves, in their native language, in what were clearly tones of awe.  I imagine many others have had comparable experiences but perhaps not the museum staff.

They plan to deacquisition significant pieces from the collection at auction to raise funds fofr the museum, which feels a bit like selling off your first born child to add another bedroom for future children.  How can a museum maintain its stature if it undercuts its own strengths with sales of great art?

Deacquisitioning any of this collection would be a huge loss and could easily imperil its unique qualities, aesthetic and spiritual. The auction date is set but there may be time to try to make reason, and spirit, prevail.

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