Oceanic Art

Malagan Figures, mid 1900s

Unknown Artist, New Ireland, Papua New Guinea

wood, paint, fiber, and shell

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. George Anderman


This sculpture was made by an artist on the island of New Ireland, Papua New Guinea, for use in an indigenous Malagan ceremony. The entire surface is covered with brilliantly colored geometric designs that serve to unify the three parts of the composition: the central fish and the two male human figures attached to its side and snout. The fish is carved from a single piece of wood, and open projections form its mouth and dorsal fins.

This is the Ship Belonging to Captain Cook When He Came to Australia (Dispela Em Sip Bilong Kiapten Kuk ikam Austrelia), 1999

Mathias Kauage, Papua New Guinea

acrylic on canvas

Funds donated in memory of George G. Anderman


Mathias Kauage is one of the most famous and influential contemporary artists in Papua New Guinea. His painting celebrates the historic contribution of Captain Cook, the British explorer who opened the South Pacific and its cultures to the international community. Kauage places his symbolic portrait of Cook and his entourage in the center of the composition. The vessel that carries him flies both a British and an Australian flag, and four birds top its colorful sails.

Minja Society Figure, mid 1900s

Unknown Artist, Washkuk Hills, Upper Sepik River Region, Papua New Guinea

wood and pigment

Gift of Joan and George Anderman


Mask, mid 1900s

Unknown Artist, Sepik River region, Papua New Guinea

plant fiber, clay, and pigment

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. George Anderman


Yipwon Spirit Figure, mid 1800s

Unknown Artist, Korewori River area, Middle Sepik River region, Papua New Guinea

cowrie shells and pigment on wood

Gift of Joan and George Anderman


The tall, carved figure is from the Korewori River region of New Guinea. The artist has simplified the human figure into a series of projecting, hooklike shapes. The head features a beard terminating in a sharp point. Above the head, a cap with a comblike tassel curves forward to protect the entire sculptural framework. In the torso area, semicircular shapes carved in concentric patterns surround and protect a jagged phallic projection. The figure, carved from a single piece of wood, is probably an abstract representation of a hunting spirit.

Canoe Prow (musumusu or ngusunguzu), early 1900s

Unknown Artist, Solomon Islands

wood and pearl shell

Gift in memory of George G. Anderman


Canoe Prow, about 1800

Unknown Maori Artist, New Zealand

Wood and abalone

Native Arts acquisition fund


Earring, about 1875

Unknown Artist, Marquesas Islands

tortoise shell, porpoise teeth, and glass bead.

Native Arts acquisition fund



The Oceanic art collection includes an array of art forms from the South Pacific region and is especially strong in art from the geographic regions of Melanesia and Polynesia. This collection of more than 1,000 pieces includes important historic monumental sculpture, delicate bark cloth, intricate wood carvings, and the work of contemporary artists such as Mathias Kauage and Laben Sakale.

During the Martin Building renovation project, the Oceanic art gallery is closed. Please view select pieces from the Denver Art Museum’s Oceanic collection in the cross-departmental exhibition The Light Show.

EXPLORE THE COLLECTION ONLINE: Browse artworks from the Oceanic art collection anytime. Check back often for additions and updates.


The Oceanic collection includes all major island groups, with particular strength in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century wood carving and painted bark cloth from the islands of Samoa, Tonga, and Hawaii. Most impressive is the Melanesian collection, consisting of masterpieces from Papua New Guinea and New Ireland.

News & Stories


Companion to Oceanic Art at the Denver Art Museum. Blomberg, Nancy J. Denver: Denver Art Museum, 2014.

Organized by the four major regions of Oceania (Polynesia, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Australia), the 100-page book contains 80 color photos, including close-ups that allow the reader to see incredible details that would not be visible even in the gallery.


Current Staff

  • John Lukavic, A. W. Mellon Curator of Native Arts
  • Julia Strunk , Curatorial Assistant
  • Heather Nielsen, Associate Director of Learning and Engagement
  • Chris Patrello, Andrew W. Mellon Post-Doctoral Curatorial Fellow

Past Staff

  • Nancy Blomberg, Chief Curator and Curator of Native Arts
  • Denene De Quintal, Andrew W. Mellon Post-Doctoral Curatorial Fellow
  • Edgar C. McMechan, Curator
  • Frederic H. Douglas, Curator
  • Kate Peck Kent, Assistant Curator
  • Royal B. Hassrick, Curator
  • Norman Feder, Curator
  • Richard Conn, Curator
  • David Irving, Assistant Curator
  • Ryntha Johnson, Assistant Curator
  • Moyo Okediji, Assistant Curator
  • Roger Echo-Hawk, Assistant Curator
  • Polly Nordstrand, Associate Curator