Beaux-Arts magazine of the exhibition for reasons I'll explain in a bit and found this answer (loosely translated): "In the exhibition, we present several pieces of our permanent collection coming from New Zealand, Hawaii or the Marquesas Islands. In no way are they there to speak for the Polynesia people. Rather, they are points of departure for an exhibition that I would qualify as modern art." There is much to unpack here starting with the ease of separating Polynesian art from the people who made it, and the insistence on a rift between Polynesian art and modern art, that leads to the idea of the artifacts both displaying and explaining Tiki Pop. There's a bit of the "Ils sont fous, les Américains" feel to the exhibition, which after all is subtitled "L'Amérique Rêve son Paradis Polynesien" (America Imagines (says the publication, but dreams is ok) its own Polynesian Paradise) and indeed the same Beaux-Arts article presents America in the 1960s as a time when the country could (again, translated) "achieve its craziest (les plus fous) dreams."
Unfamiliar Fishes. In other ways, things get importantly complicated on questions of who speaks for whom, how dialogues can be created, who speaks with whom, how to live with legacies that prized pleasure and hid pain. Ok, so that's how I might start the conversation. It's not the conversation the curator, Sven Kirsten, is having. A self-titled "urban archaeologist," a cinematographer of music videos and Hollywood movies, and avid collector of Tiki Pop artifacts (whose introduction to Polynesia culture came by way of reading Thor Heyerdahl's book Kon-Tiki, found on his parents' bookshelf in Germany), Kirsten adds this exhibit (and its hefty catalogue) to two previous publications exploring/celebrating the American appropriation of Polynesian culture for everything from hotels to ketchup dispensers that he has dubbed Tiki Pop (The Book of Tiki and Tiki Modern). Once I learned this, I will tell you that I became more skeptical about the provenance of nearly everything from the show being "collection particulière" (private collection). Whose? And whom does the display of these artifacts benefit (knowing that any object that is part of a museum exhibit increases in value)? So that's the ethics component. But back to the insistent need for analysis (which I wanted) vs. presentation (which is done very, very thoroughly - make no mistake, this is definitely the best collection of Tiki Pop artifacts in the world).
Musée du Quai Branly, whose tagline is "where cultures come to dialogue" it is another thing entirely. I'm not seeing the dialogue, as much as I'm seeing a reminiscence, an exposé, an enthusiasm. What I see is immaterial, however, to the thousands of people who have seen the show, and to the hundreds that waited in line to see it as Eleanor and I left it. Tiki Pop sells, as it always has, with an unnerving glee that defies complications.
Tiki Pop catalogue is by Sven Kirsten, and published by Taschen (run by Benedikt Taschen, who also emigrated from Germany to California - and lives in the awesomely cool Chemosphere by John Launter no less!). The Beaux-Arts magazine devoted to the exhibition is the only place where I've found French academics and museum professionals doing the writing. Now, the Musée du Quai Branly has a long and complicated history (chronicled in Sally Price's incredible book), but it's within these pages that you'll find analysis of the annexation of Hawaii in 1959, here that you'll see a photograph of Obama growing up in Hawaii (!), here that you'll see more intertwining of the European articulation of "primitivism" with American Polynesian consumerism. There's analysis and a score of images not in the exhibition (and of course fewer images than are in the exhibition - have to go to the catalogue for that). Finally, there's the strangest little publication. At the entrance, or the exit (when I noticed it) is a little blue fold-out paper. I picked it up, my head full of images of Tiki statues, full of questions of how this all (the phenomenon, the exhibition) came to be, full of curiosity about how the show ends, with the definitive end of Tiki Pop - with its revilement by the next generation as kitsch, racist, colonialist (the words of the wall text), with this "loss of naïveté" of American culture. And I look at this little blue fold-out and I see instructions for How to Host Your Very Own Tiki Party...! In English, with links to cocktail recipes and a Deezer playlist (put together by the Musée du Quai Branly) and suggestions for the right décor. And my puzzlement was thus sealed. Until further consideration (in class), as they say.