Peter Hallinan New Guinea & Oceanic Tribal Art Peter Hallinan by Reg MacDonald For most in the Oceanic art world the name Peter Hallinan is most recognized from the single owner sale of his collection by Sotheby’s London on December 7th, 1992. But the Peter I knew was a self-effacing, modest bloke, who pursued both solitude and privacy with passion throughout his 77 years. John (Peter) Hallinan, the scholarly, eccentric American-who came to Australia in the early 1960s--not to dodge the Vietnam draft as some would assert but to further his knowledge of Oceanic cultures. A graduate in TV and media studies from the University of Miami, Peter dallied in Sydney for nearly five years, becoming a guru of sorts in that city's weird world of advertising. Then, true to form, he disappeared virtually overnight. He turned up on the Gold Coast where he pursued sun and surf with boyish enthusiasm. In 1968 he answered his true calling by purchasing a small house in Broadbeach which he converted into the stylish Tribal Arts Gallery. He recruited Joan Dansey, a successful art dealer, and John Valilio, a PNG national, to run the gallery. The trio formed a formidable partnership and in a few years Peter was arguably Australia's best informed and most respected tribal art dealer. Peter Hallinan in his palatial Gold Coast, Qld, gallery-home, circa 1980-- Courtesy of the Peter Hallinan Estate As a boy Peter's interest in Oceanic art was inspired by the superb collection of ethnographic objects at Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History, and to a lesser extent by the small but significant collection at the Chicago Art Institute. As an adult he concentrated on Melanesian material culture and pursued this new calling with determination and intellectual rigor. Over the next 25 years Peter made 26 field expeditions to Papua New Guinea, collecting and documenting Melanesian art. Travelling in remote areas, living among the people and studying their diverse cultures and traditional art, he would disappear for months on end. Tribal art dealer Peter Hallinan " on patrol" in the middle Sepik, circa 1976-- Courtesy of the Peter Hallinan Estate One of his earliest visits was by yacht with a group of young Australian adventurers. Peter disembarked in the Trobriand Islands, and 11 months later he was still there, flitting between Kiriwina and Kitava studying the Massim culture. This was the place where his deep passion for authenticity, detail and scholarship blossomed. It is a little-known fact that in the mid-1980s Peter was beavering away on a study of the betel -chewing paraphernalia of Melanesia and was well underway with a monograph when he was gazumped by Harry Beran, the former president of OAS. Peter gave the project away when Harry's “Betel-chewing Equipment of East New Guinea”, a typology of the manifold designs in the Massim area, was published by Shire Ethnography in 1988. Undaunted, Peter then put together a representative collection of Melanesian betel-nut mortars, pestles and lime sticks. The young American tribal art dealer Peter Hallinan on a collecting mission on the Sepik River, circa 1973-- Courtesy of the Peter Hallinan Estate Deciding to move his business up-market, he acquired expensive real estate on Savoy Drive in Florida Gardens and built a grand home with magnificent display spaces for his Melanesian artifacts. More gallery than home, the architect-designed house was featured in chic magazines. The whole episode was so unlike Peter. Such grand places don't come cheap and Peter soon had liquidity problems. The bailiffs came calling. Cover of Sotheby’s London 1992 sale of the Peter Hallinan Collection of Oceanic Art On December 7,1992, the first tranche of the vast Peter Hallinan Collection was sold in London by Sotheby's. A second portion was sold in Sydney's Powerhouse Museum, again by Sotheby's, on November 28,1993. At the time the second sale was the largest collection of tribal art offered in Australia: “Ninety per cent of the lots sold for a total of $400,000 (double the expected total) to a bidding audience comprising numerous collectors of contemporary and modern art, prompting one dealer to remark that “Primitive has arrived.” Colorful Coastal Ramu River Mask Field Collected by Peter Hallinan Quietly, unobtrusively, Peter disappeared. A year or so later friends and former clients were amazed to learn that he had taken up publishing and mountain bike racing. He helped establish the Gold Coast Mountain Bike Club Inc. The club honoured him by naming their newly established track in the Gold Coast hinterland “The Peter Hallinan Mountain Bike Precinct.” Very old Dampier Strait betel nut mortar collected by Peter Hallinan on Sakar Island (H903) When Morris Young, the popular Canadian-born tribal arts dealer of Island Carvings and Village Arts fame, opened the Dekenai, a delightful restaurant overlooking Port Moresby's Basilisk Passage, he recruited Peter, a dab hand at mixing exotic cocktails, as his bar manager. Peter soon became famous for his mind-numbing dry martinis and blue lagoons. Iatmul Canoe Shield Mask collected by Peter Hallinan (H1693) Cover Sotheby’s London 7 December 1992, Harry Tracosas Collection, Madison Wisconsin. The night he died; two cycling friends decided to stay with Peter because he obviously wasn't well. He mixed them a couple of his legendary dry martinis before retiring. He died a few hours later. No fuss. Peter went as he came--quietly, almost anonymously. He wanted to slip out the back door hoping nobody would notice. Hopefully this essay and all the wonderful objects he collected will ensure that he didn't disappear without trace. Solomon Island betel nut mortar collected by Peter Hallinan in Bubuitolo village, Baegu District, North Malaita region (H769). 1From Shireen Huda's “Pedigree and Panache; A history of the Art Auction in Australia”, ANU E Press, 2008.