Artists/the arts; Art of the Pacific, by James McNeish and David Simmons, photographs by Brian Brake. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc. $29.95
When Europeans sailed into the South Pacific they signaled the decline of a remarkable art, art not treasured in the European way, by giving an object display space and then looking at it, but art with vital functions. In the Pacific, art was considered a means of communicating with ancestor spirits and animist spirits; it was used as a memory jogger for genealogical recitals, as an aid to celestial navigation, and as a mark of the social rank of its owner.
Most of the early objects that still survive are now the special treasures of museums in New Zealand.
Apart from the objects themselves, Brian Brake's photography is the other wonder of this book. By his control of light he has given these objects new life and meaning, even for people familiar with them. For strangers to Pacific art, his photographs are likely to produce a wave of awe for the achievement of generations of unknown creators.