stone, 14.75 x 25 x 13.5 in (37.5 x 63.5 x 34.3 cm)
signed and dated, "ᐃᓇᓱᒐ / AUG 1973".
Estimate: $60,000 —$80,000
Private Collection, Montreal.
We know that Barnabus Arnasungaaq began carving muskoxen as early as 1964. He actually enjoyed carving a wide variety of subject matter over his extraordinarily long career, but by the mid 1970s his affinity with muskoxen had captured the imagination of collectors, and Arnasungaaq was receiving many requests for depictions of the animal. Soon the popularity of "Barnabus Muskoxen" was rivalling that of "Pauta Bears." Arnasungaaq has the uncanny ability to render both the massiveness and the quiet grace of the animal with surprising economy of form.
This colossal and magnificent sculpture was carved in 1973, when Arnasungaaq was in his prime and at the height of his powers, working with fellow Baker Lake artists Peter Sevoga, George Tatanniq, Tuna Iquliq, Luke Iksiktaaryuk, Mathew Aqigaaq and others to create an entirely new sculptural aesthetic. Baker Lake was enjoying its heyday as a new hub of Inuit art expression, with the simultaneous flowering of the sculptural, graphic, and textile arts.
Muskox is almost certainly Arnasungaaq's largest, most monumental rendering of the subject. That is an impressive achievement in itself, but the sculpture also happens to be one of the loveliest examples we have ever seen. The sculpture perfectly synthesizes all of the features we have come to expect from the classic "Barnabus muskox." Beautiful in its overall form, it is massive yet surprisingly graceful; it displays elegant contours from every angle (even from a low vantage point); and its exquisite finish and beautifully modulated texture follow the broad forms of the animal perfectly . And importantly, Arnasungaaq has got the proportions down perfectly; for all of the sculpture's enormous size and weight there is not even a hint of clumsiness. Muskox has the grace and charm of a sculpture than you could hold in your hand. Bravo, Maestro Arnasungaaq.
1. For an excellent contemporaneous but smaller example in the collection of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection see Susan Gustavison, Northern Rock: Contemporary Inuit Stone Sculpture (Kleinburg: McMichael Canadian Art Collection, 1999) cat. 39. Arnasungaaq's commentary on that work is relevant to our example:
I made all those grooves with a file to make it white. When I started carving I used to make the musk ox smooth, but then I thought that it didn't look like fur so I started making those grooves. It was a lot of work making rows and rows of those marks, but I got it into my mind that was what I wanted, so I did it. (p. 109)
References: For two excellent and probably roughly contemporaneous examples by the artist in the Twomey Collection at the Winnipeg Art Gallery see Bernadette Driscoll, Uumajut: Animal Imagery in Inuit Art (WAG, 1985) cats. 9 and 10. For a shaggier treatment of a muskox c. 1974-75 from the Sarick Collection at the AGO, see Ingo Hessel, Inuit Art: An Introduction (Douglas & McIntyre, 1998), fig. 83.