Tuesday, December 11, 2012



The long awaited opening of the Kubler - Thompson Gallery of Indo-Pacific Art took place in mid November within the Yale University Art Gallery.  The collection is the promised gift to the university from Yale alumnus Thomas Jaffe of New York.   Mr. Jaffe is a well-known and highly respected collector of Oceanic (or Indo-Pacific) art, with a strong focus on objects from the western Pacific, including the Austronesian cultures of Indonesia, the Philippines, and Formosa (Taiwan).  The gallery takes it name from two of Mr. Jaffe's mentors; Yale professors and art historians, Robert Thompson and the late George Kubler.

His collection, arguably one of the most important assembled from this region, consists primarily of sculptural masterpieces of all sizes from the islands of Borneo, Sulawesi, Sumatra, Flores, and the Moluccas.  Additionally there are rare objects from the Jorai of the Central Highlands of Vietnam, the Paiwan of Formosa Island, the Ifugao of Luzon Island, and the Naga tribes along the border of India and Burma.  

Included in the Indo-Pacific gallery are over four hundred of the finest Indonesia textiles from the Jeff Holmgren and Anita Spertus collection and Indonesian gold jewelry from the Hunter Thompson collection. 

Mr. Jaffe endowed funds for a permanent curatorial position.  Recruited from the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford, curator Ruth Barnes will organize rotating installations, direct research, publications, and special exhibitions with loans from other institutions and private collections.

I had the privilege of attending the opening on November 13th.  There are too many fantastic pieces to mention, but a few of my favorites include: a superb collection of ancestral shrine vault doors from the Toraja highlands (Sulawesi), a large Paiwan (Formosa) wood panel, a Jorai (Vietnam) wood sculpture carved wearing a long mask, two Dayak (Borneo) wood baby carriers, a group of Dayak (Borneo) shields, and a pair of Ata Oro Island ancestral figures.  Of great interest are the archaic Dayak (Borneo) sculptures in the collection, several of which were on display.  One of the most important and rarest wood sculptures from Borneo is a bizarre oddity with an elongated thin head, eyes set high, and a ritual cavity on the back of the torso, believed to come from an area near the Sarawak/Kalimantan border area.

This collection is a must see for connoisseurs of non-Western art, especially those interested in the art of the Austronesians, a seafaring culture more than 5000 years old that spread out of Southern China, via Formosa, the Philippines, and Indonesia, with later branches reaching as far east as Easter Island and Hawaii and as far west as Madagascar.

For additional information, please go to the Yale University Art Gallery website: http://artgallery.yale.edu/

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