newly released reference book, "Solomon Island Art" is a marvelous
pictorial of Kevin
Conru's impressive collection of Solomon Islands Art, and is now available
for purchase at selected booksellers. nation wide
caught up with Kevin in New York this fall, and was granted the following
inspired you to produce such a comprehensive book on the Solomons?
collection started a bit like my South African, a decade earlier. I found that
I was buying great material from the culture, but couldn't find customers
who would pay me a bit more. In the end, I became my own best customer, and
the sellers and vendors who knew that I was looking for Solomons art would
seek me out or offer good pieces when they had them.
paddles, Buka or Bougainville Island, 19th C.
I had the good fortune
of making a few key acquisitions early on, and these provided the
cornerstones of building a comprehensive collection. It was also
fortunate that the Solomons were slightly off the radar of the major collectors, great
pieces could be had and certain jewelry objects and club types were still
Polynesia, from the time of Oldman, and PNG were definitely impossibilities, and
were areas whereby I didn't see enough great material, at least out of the
art is quite expensive relatively speaking, and many objects are impossibly
rare, and outside of Malangan traditions, one never sees the jewelry
objects. Having been an English colony, and with close ties to Australia and
New Zealand, it made it much easier to source interesting material in many
Ornamented War Axe, Roviana
Lagoon 19th C.
long have you been collecting Solomon
material and why to you find it so compelling?
I have been
collecting Solomons Art since the early 1990's, though a great influx of
pieces came in the period of 2003-2006. I am sure this was when I began to
seriously look to be more comprehensive, and to try to see if it was
possible to build a representative collection of truly 'best-of-type'
objects. While no collection is ever truly complete, William Oldman
and John Friede have done an extraordinary job of coming close (both
collections have many thousands of objects, while my group has about 200
only), I feel that I have done a good job of gathering a pretty varied and
balanced ensemble. I have
focused a lot of my attention over the years on Pacific material, one of the
reasons while the Solomons is attractive, and I do like the language of the
art very much. Great art of all types is compelling, and the Solomons has
produced an amazing variety of wonderful things.
Dance wand, Malaita Is. C
1930, Dance club , Buka or Bougainville Is., 19th C
you've built upon what Deborah Waite did in "Art of the Solomon Islands" in 1983. Did you set out to make this the definitive reference?
project is a continuation of a number of previous works- Southeast African
art, and photographic works, and the Solomons book was done in a similar
vein. I worked with 5 Continents who are the supreme publishers of tribal
books, and we built on our previous good experiences together. There are
many books other regions of the Pacific, and I had an opportunity to add to
a limited corpus of literature on the art of the Solomons. Also, I was able
to interest Deborah Waite in doing a comprehensive overview of the subject.
She is a doyen, not only of Solomons art, but of the wider tribal field in
general, having published superbly written essays already back in the early
1960's. Her long term focus has been on the Solomons, and it is a tremendous
reward for all of us to have her insight put into a large volume.
figure, Roviana Lagoon, 19th C.
you have a goal in terms of presentation?
motivation for doing the book was having the opportunity to work with the
preeminent photographer in the field, Hughes Dubois. I wanted to not only
make a book of scholastic merit, but to also have a book that was superbly
illustrated. This could only be done by working with one photographer, and
to devote the time necessary to really explore each image. Hughes's visual
ear is tuned to perfect pitch, and he valued each object, small or large,
equally. I enjoy not just the objects, but the way each object is presented.
In the end, I wanted to make the finest book possible on the subject, and to
that end, I feel that we succeeded.
Canoe, 45 inches, S.E. Solomon Is., C. 1900
Crocodile with human torso,
W. Solomon Islands, New Georgia, 19th C.
you have a favorite piece?
While I have
many favorites, I get pleasure from all the works, even the simplest shell
ornaments. Some, like the big Ngusu ngusu from the Hoffmeister collection, I
have been after for many, many years. That piece took me three attempts to
get it, once in the original house in
Prague, then twice at Sotheby's, with an interval of 10 years between sales.
Another one, the cover piece, I was also after for many years, as it was the
favorite and well-guarded piece of the former owner. Most have come through
friends, either dealers or collectors- a situation which is most often the
case. Very few works turned up at auction, thankfully, as I hate bidding
wars to see who has the most money to throw at things.
carving, Vella La Vella Island, 19th C.
carvings are such coveted Iconic pieces. What's your view of their
attraction and appeal in the marketplace?
I think there are several
reasons for the attraction to these prow ornaments. As sculptures, the
transformational human-dog imagery allows for sculptural variety and
virtuosity. As so very many examples were collected, somewhere in
the mid hundreds, I would imagine, there is a tremendous scope for
comparison. There are small ones and large ones, expensive and less
expensive ones, and the interest in that variety captivates. Also, there
is the fascination with their function. As a protective amulet on a
war canoe vessel, there is a lot of magic and power imbued in these
ornaments. This was one of the reasons why they were sought after by the
early voyagers to the Solomons. They were also easy to carry, being of a
Finally, they are perhaps the
most recognizable symbol of Solomons art, being the one object uniquely
associated from there. Another fact of their commonality is that
collectors are more comfortable with the pricing on them, as
seen from auction results, than for rarer objects where pricing is much
more difficult. Familiarity breeds desire!
carving, Western Solomon Is., 19th C., 14 inches, Ex. Hoffmeister
you feel the time, money and effort expended to publish this book was worth
it in the value it adds to your pieces?
As far as the
value of all of this, and any future ups or downs, I haven't really
considered it all in my calculations. Fortunately, I haven't gotten
financially tangled up in the nets which have tripped up some, and I have no
plans to sell the published works on. This last statement is in contrast to
my sale catalogues, whereby things are for the market. I have missed certain
Solomon things in the time preceding the book project, and when they turn
up, they are also for sale.
Mask, Nissan Island, C. 1900
Ligomo Charm, Chea village,
Marovo Lagoon. Skull with attached shell rings and rago, New
you plan to have a special exhibition featuring these pieces in the future?
I don't have
any plans for an exhibition or anything. I lend works time to time, but
mainly I have published the book just for the book's sake.
you have any other books planned?
I don't have
any other such projects planned, as I don't have the depth in another field to do justice to a book.
New Britain, is equally under represented in the literature, and I have a goodly number
of things, but there some key pieces are missing.
extends its sincere gratitude and appreciation to Kevin Conru for offering
Continents (September 1, 2008)
Dimensions: 12.5 x 10.2 x 1 inches