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“And Viot once again left for the Tropics” *

*Switch language to english for english version of the article*

This article was first written for the catalogue of the Bourgogne Tribal show's third edition in 2018.

      “A poet without a publishing house or work”1Jacques Viot entered the world of Parisian galleries and, more particularly, the surrealist scene in the 1920s. He represented artists like Joan Miró. After working for several artists and galleries and being deep in debt, Viot sailed the Pacific in 1926. After coming back to Paris in 1928, he got back in touch with Pierre Loeb who had had a gallery in Paris since 1924. Viot had worked with him before his departure. Viot suggested that he go to the South Seas in order to bring back objects that were fashionable at the time, particularly among surrealists.

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Sculpture from lake Sentani, Jacques Viot, 1929, print on baryté paper, musée du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, PP0004185. © Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac

        In 1929, the two men signed a contract. It stipulated that Loeb would give Viot 6,000 francs a month excluding costs of transport, and that the trip would last for a year maximum, unless the contract be renewed by Loeb himself. On his return, his debt would be paid off. In exchange, Viot would have to “send all the savage art objects collected during his trips, mentioning how much he paid for them”2  on the objects bought in the villages – ten per cent of what the auction house would have sold them for. 3

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The Lily, Sentani Lake, national Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Photograph : Béatrice Bijon

        When he arrived in the Lake Sentani region, Jacques Viot discovered that the local population were under the domination of missionaries and that many “traditional” objects had already disappeared. According to Viot, he established a trusting relationship with the elders and the sorcerers in the village, which gave him access to his Holy Grail – the “lost” sculptures of Lake Sentani.4 Men in the village took out of the lake “a representation of their souls”5, a figure made of a single piece of wood which might have been the upper part of a pillar from a men’s house and which Viot decided to call The Lily.

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Max Ernst, The Moon Asparagus 1935.

      Like Viot’s other discoveries from Sentani, The Lily crossed the sea before reaching Pierre Loeb’s gallery in Paris. Loeb explained how, inside a very heavy box, he discovered a masterpiece: The Lily. This sculpture was to become the new star of its epoch. After coming back from New Guinea, Viot helped Loeb to exhibit the sculptures and various objects that he brought back from Lake Sentani. Unexpectedly, the exhibition which displayed The Lily took place in the Pierre Colle gallery in January 1933. Though this was not well received, The The Lily would become known by art lovers later on. As a matter of fact, later in the year, the sculpture was exhibited at the Maison Lois Carré by Carré and Charles Ratton. It is likely that it was at this exhibition that surrealists became enamoured of these ancestors from Lake Sentani. In 1933 too, Man Ray took the sculpture to his studio in rue Campagne Première to photograph it from different angles, as shown by the glass negatives now in the collection of the Centre Pompidou in Paris. The sculpture carried on inspiring many artists, like Max Ernst who created The Moon Asparagus in 1935. The life of The Lily in Paris ended when it was acquired by the artist Jacob Epstein who lived in London. As to Viot who was separated from what was probably his greatest discovery, he gradually turned to the cinema and became a scriptwriter.

Clémentine Débrosse

Head image: The Lily, Sentani Lake, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Photograph: Beatrice Bijon

The title is cited from PELTIER, P., In LEE-WEBB, V., (ed.), 2011. Ancestors of the Lake: Art of Lake Sentani, and Humboldt Bay, New Guinea. New Haven, Conn., Yale University Press, p. 50.

1 LOEB, P., Cited in LEE-WEBB, V., (ed.), 2011. Ancestors of the Lake: Art of Lake Sentani, and Humboldt Bay, New Guinea. New Haven, Conn., Yale University Press, p. 96.

2 LOEB, P., Cited in LEE-WEBB, V., (ed.), 2011. Ancestors of the Lake: Art of Lake Sentani, and Humboldt Bay, New Guinea. New Haven, Conn., Yale University Press, p. 50.

3 LOEB, P., Cited in LEE-WEBB, V., (ed.), 2011. Ancestors of the Lake: Art of Lake Sentani, and Humboldt Bay, New Guinea. New Haven, Conn., Yale University Press, p. 50.

4 VIOT, J., Cited in LEE-WEBB, V., (ed.), 2011. Ancestors of the Lake: Art of Lake Sentani, and Humboldt Bay, New Guinea. New Haven, Conn., Yale University Press, p. 51.

5 VIOT, J., Cited in LEE-WEBB, V., (ed.), 2011. Ancestors of the Lake: Art of Lake Sentani, and Humboldt Bay, New Guinea. New Haven, Conn., Yale University Press, p. 51.

Bibliography:

  • LEE-WEBB, V., (ed.), 2011. Ancestors of the Lake: Art of Lake Sentani, and Humboldt Bay, New Guinea. New Haven, Conn., Yale University Press.
  • GREUB, S., (ed.), 1992. Art of Northwest New Guinea. New York, Rizzoli.

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