The de Young has exhibited Oceanic art since its opening in 1895. M. H. de Young and museum supporters purchased works from the California International Midwinter Exposition that still form the core of the Oceanic collection. The strength of this charter collection lay in small groups of objects, including important New Zealand Maori woodcarvings from meetinghouses of that period, as well as in singular works of importance, such as a rare Micronesian figurative weather charm.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, San Franciscans traveled in the Pacific and donated additional Oceanic works from such island groups as New Ireland, New Britain, and the Admiralty Islands. In 1930 the de Young received more than 70 works, including Trobriand Island carvings and Indonesian textiles, from Charles Templeton Crocker, who cruised around the South Pacific and the world on his yacht, Zaca. Through the recent generosity of Helen and Robert Kuhn, Georgia Sales, and George and Marie Hecksher, the de Young can now boast a nationally important collection of Indonesian carvings, particularly architectural fragments from the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Jolika Collection of New Guinea Art includes numerous individual works considered of great importance to the corpus of New Guinea art. Many are from the Sepik Province, known for its diverse and exceptional art forms. But the broad-based collection also represents the hundreds of clans and art-producing villages throughout the island of New Guinea. Each work in this extraordinary collection has multivalent stories to share with future generations of visitors and scholars at the de Young.