Exhibition of rare material from UST's American Museum of Asmat Art opens this month at Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Panel, before 1981
Sawa or Erma Villages, Unir Sirau, wood, ochre, line, soot
(Photo: Robert Fogt)

Exhibition of rare material from UST's American Museum of Asmat Art opens this month at Minneapolis Institute of Arts

"Time and Tide: The Changing Art of the Asmat of New Guinea," an exhibition of rare material from the American Museum of Asmat Art at the University of St. Thomas, opens Feb. 14 at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Featuring 72 objects that focus on the distinct and powerful aesthetic sense of the Asmat people of southwestern New Guinea, the free exhibition features works of sculpture, fiber arts and decorative painting. Featured artworks range from the ceremonial to the utilitarian – shields and spears, spirit masks, woven bags, drums, openwork carvings and figural sculpture.

Over their long history, the Asmat people have remained little known beyond their area of the Pacific until the past few decades.   "Time and Tide" traces and illuminates visual and cultural themes, illustrating the broad scope of Asmat creativity. It also explores how their art has changed in recent years as greater exposure to the larger world has led Asmat sculptors and weavers to absorb and adapt new ideas.

Ancestor Pole,
before 1980, Per Village, Bismam, wood, lime, ochre, soot

(Photo: Robert Fogt)

Many of the pieces in the exhibition were acquired by the Crosier Fathers and Brothers during their decades as missionaries in New Guinea. In July 2007 the Crosiers and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Agats, Indonesia, donated the collection to St. Thomas, where plans are under way for a permanent gallery for the American Museum of Asmat Art.

The exhibition runs through June 14 in the art institute's U.S. Bank Gallery. General admission is free. Museum hours: 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday; 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Thursday. The museum is closed Mondays. Information: Call (612) 870-3131.

Catalog: "Time and Tide" is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog with a welcoming letter by Father Dennis Dease, president of St. Thomas, and four essays: an introduction to Asmat art by exhibition curator Molly Hennen Huber, the MIA's assistant curator of African, Oceanic and Native American art; a brief history of the Asmat people by Crosier Bishop Alphonse Sowada, a Minnesota native who ministered to the Asmat for 32 years and is an internationally known expert on Asmat culture; a history of the American Museum of Asmat art and its collection by former director Mary Braun; and a vivid firsthand account of Asmat art today by photographer and journalist Jim Daniels. The book is available at the MIA Museum Shop for $29.95 and is expected to be available soon at the St. Thomas Bookstore.

Special programs to be held in conjunction with the exhibit include:

Bowl, before 1997, wood, lime, ochre, soot
(Photo: Robert Fogt)

  • A lecture, "Asmat Forever! Art as Contact With the Ancestors," 2-3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 14, in the MIA's Pillsbury Auditorium. Lecturer Pauline van der Zee, an art historian at the University of Ghent in the Netherlands, is author of Art As Contact With the Ancestors: Visual Arts of the Kamoro and Asmat of West Papua. Admission is $5 or free to MIA members. For tickets, call (612) 870-6323 or order online.

Free tickets to van der Zee's lecture are available to St. Thomas students on a first-come, first-served basis at the UST Box Office.

  • "Birds, Snakes and Flying Foxes," Target Family Day at the MIA, is 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 8.   Families are invited to discover the art of the Asmat and other Pacific island cultures. Children can learn about animal and nature symbols by creating replicas of Asmat shields, and they can try their hands at drumming. A fun-filled gallery hunt takes them to the "Time and Tide" exhibit.
  • A workshop for teachers, "Art of the Asmat," Dr. Julie Risser
    Ed Bock)
    will be held from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday, March 14, in the Friends Community Room at the MIA. Among the speakers: Dr. Julie Risser, director of UST's American Museum of Asmat Art. The workshop also includes an exhibit tour and a discussion of classroom applications. Registration fee is $35 or $30 for MIA members. Register by Friday, March 6; call (612) 870-6414.
  • An art history seminar for adults, "The Art of the Asmat of New Guinea," is scheduled from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, March 21, in the MIA's Pillsbury Auditorium. "Time and Tide" exhibition curator Molly Huber will cover Asmat aesthetics and more. Fee is $45, $30 for MIA members.  
  • "Time and Tide: Asmat Art, Tradition and Perception of Life" is the title of a lecture by speaker Dirk Smidt, curator of the Oceanic Department of the Rijksmuseum voor Volkenkunde in Leiden, Netherlands,from 11 a.m. to noon Thursday, April 9, in the MIA's Pillsbury Auditorium. The lecture, sponsored by the Friends of the MIA and UST's College of Arts and Sciences, is free and open to the public.
  • A program for youth, "Mixed Media Studio: Asmat Aesthetic," lets young people explore the culture, motifs and myths of the Asmat. Classes meet Saturdays, April 11, 18 and 25 and May 9, 16 and 23 at the art institute. Sessions for 8- and 9-year-olds and for children 10 to 12 are $96 or $72 for MIA members. Sessions for teens 13-16 are $80 or $60 for MIA members. For more information and registration, call (612) 870-3131. Classes are limited to 20 pa
  • A free "Third Thursday" special event from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, May 21, at the MIA, will spotlight Asmat art. See the "Time and Tide" exhibition on your own or on a free docent tour, and attend lectures by curator Molly Huber and Julie Risser of UST's American Museum of Asmat Art. Minneapolis singer-songwriter Chris Koza will entertain, too.