Art in Oceania: A New History (2012)

By: Peter Brunt

A spectacular survey of the artistic traditions of Oceania, spanning the islands’ initial settlement in the prehistoric era through the 21st century

Masks and figural sculptures are the most familiar examples of the visual culture of Oceania, yet they provide only a glimpse of the fascinating art of this diverse region. Artisans of the Pacific Islands and Australia have produced objects ranging from stained and beaten fabric, rock engravings, and woven containers to tattooed and painted bodies, drawings on sand and paper, and contemporary installation art. This survey looks at the full range of objects created over several millennia, spanning the settlement of Oceania in the prehistoric period to the present day.

Lavishly illustrated and encyclopedic in scope, this landmark book places the art of Oceania in its comprehensive and often complex historical context. Essays by leading scholars offer a fresh approach to archaeological findings; the impacts of migration, trade, warfare, and colonization; the influence of materials, ritual, dance, and religion; and the roles of photography, tourism, nationalism, and popular culture. Featuring a rich selection of previously unpublished materials and accompanied by commentary from contemporary practitioners, Art in Oceania: A New History is essential reading, offering an important reinterpretation of existing scholarship, and a dynamic introduction to Oceanic artistic traditions in the 21st century.

More Information


London : Thames & Hudson; Yale: Yale UP, 2012.
ISBN: 9780500239018 0500239010
OCLC Number: 904145938
Description: 536 p. : ill., maps

Table of contents

Table of contents

Art in early Oceania.

  • Aesthetic traces : the settlement of Western Oceania / Lissant Bolton
  • After Lapita : voyaging and monumental architecture c. 900 BC-c. AD 1700 / Deidre Brown and Peter Brunt

New Guinea 1700-1940.

  • Art, trade and exchange : New Guinea 1700-1900 / Nicholas Thomas, Susanne Küchler and Lissant Bolton
  • Art, war and pacification : New Guinea 1840-1940 / Nicholas Thomas and Susanne Küchler
  • Cosmologies and collections : New Guinea 1840-1940 / Nicholas Thomas

Island Melanesia 1700-1940.

  • Place, warfare and trade 1700-1840 / Lissant Bolton
  • Incursions : loss, continuity and adaptation 1840-1900 / Lissant Bolton
  • Transformations 1890-1940 / Lissant Bolton

Eastern and northern Oceania 1700-1940.

  • Political transformations : art and power 1700-1800 / Deidre Brown
  • European incursions 1765-1880 / Nicholas Thomas
  • Colonial styles : architecture and indigenous modernity / Deidre Brown

Art, war and the end of empire 1940-89.

  • War and visual culture 1939-45 / Sean Mallon
  • Decolonization, independence and cultural revival 1945-89 / Peter Brunt
  • Tourist art and its markets 1945-89 / Sean Mallon

Art in Oceania now 1989-2012.

  • Contemporary Pacific art and its globalization / Peter Brunt
  • Urban art and popular culture / Sean Mallon
  • Continuity and change in customary arts / Damian Skinner and Lissant Bolton

About the author

About the author

Peter Brunt is a senior lecturer in art history at Victoria University of Wellington. Nicholas Thomas is director of the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and professor of historical anthropology at the University of Cambridge.

Book Reviews

Book Reviews

Gaskell, Ivan. “Reviewed Work: Art in Oceania: A New History.West 86th: A Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture 21, no. 2 (2014): 281-83. doi:10.1086/679988.

Lythberg, Billie. “Book Review: Art in Oceania: a new history.” Art Monthly Australia 256 (2012) pp. 96 – 97.

Student reviews