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The soul of Oceania

The soul of Oceania

"Just look at the noses," says Los Angeles collector Valerie Franklin, approaching a display of Melanesian masks at the San Diego Museum of Art. One resembles a sharply pointed beak, another curls into a spiral, yet another sprouts a branch that morphs into a bird-like form. A 19th century mask with a strikingly modern look has a relatively ordinary proboscis, but it anchors a twisted face with a haunting expression. Noses are not the point of “Oceanic Art: A Celebration of Form,” an exhibition of about 100 objects from Franklin's collection and the holdings of Edward and Mina Smith, who live near San Diego. But fascination with details is a pathway to...

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