March 01, 2011

Paul Gauguin in Washington

The original "bad boy" of Modernism, Paul Gauguin is the star of a new show at the National Gallery in Washington which opened on Sunday, and which I popped into on Sunday afternoon.  Up to this point I would have said "Gauguin intrigues me." Now I can safely say, I really really do not like him. In fact, I skipped the last half of the exhibit, I was so disturbed by his self-conscious perversity.

His early paintings in Brittany are very interesting. And I was quite stunned by the physicality of the imagination in his famous depiction of nuns praying and envisioning Jacob wrestling with the Angel (above). Later, when his imagination turns more grotesque, he plays with the space of dreams and thought in a more terrifying way.  I was reminded of the terrifying scene in Babar where all the different vices come to haunt Babar's dreams.  Only there weren't any angels to chase them away.

All the same, I was glad to go, if only to see more of the progression of modernism, and to be able to say: I do not like Gauguin, and I know why.  So there.

The review in the WSJ described it thusly:
In formulating their analysis of Gauguin, the curators had plenty of material to work with, since he left a formidable output of letters, journals and tracts. Among the subjects he explored were Milton's "Paradise Lost" (he was obsessed with the demonic and the divine), archetypal women, biblical literature and Asian religions. These themes are interwoven throughout the exhibition, which follows Gauguin as he moved around the world and learned about different cultures. ..."Today we're familiar with all this," says Ms. Morton, "the shrill colors, the weird people. But in Gauguin's time, everyone was just baffled."
The Washington Post had an excellent review, well worth reading if you are interested in Gauguin, and unable to attend the show:
In fact, Gauguin was already the Gauguin we know when he was working in Brittany, beginning in 1886. And the Gauguin "we know" isn't worth bothering with unless it includes Gauguin the sculptor, the printmaker, the ceramicist and, most of all, Gauguin the contrarian, the critic and social observer who could see through everything and everyone, including himself, who wrote like an annoying autodidact who has read too much Nietzsche and whose art is consequently far darker, troubling and contradictory than a handful of sunny, sexy, come-hither winking canvasses suggest.

If "Paul Gauguin: Maker of Myth" has a thesis, it is that in undoing the old Gauguin mythology, too much important information was taken off the table. But it is also arguing with the old "modernist" or formalist fetish for Gauguin, the sense (common in the history of music and literature as well) that the only thing that matters in art is the purely formal, the innovative, the interrelation with other art, not the reflection of the artist and his times.
Read the full review here.

Elsewhere, concerning art:

+ We've all seen Google's Art Project, right?  Here are some posts about what it means and what you can do with it: Lines & Colors, Underpaintings, WSJ, and the cool behind-the-scenes video.

+ David Clayton on creating the icon of a modern (i.e. much photographed) saint.

+ An interesting article on the Rothko Chapel (from the WSJ).  I shall withhold judgement (since I missed the Rothko black paintings at the NGA), and say simply that I was glad for the little shout out to Fr. Marie-Alain Couturier (OP), who deserves someone paying attention to him.  I shall have to write something since no one else will.  (Two of his frescoes hang at the Pontifical Faculty of Theology of the Immaculate Conception.  Go see them sometime.)

+ Lines & Colors is a really great blog.  Have I told you that before?  I can't remember.  Last week he posted about the awesome Printmap a location based mapping using Google Maps.
Paintmap is focused on pinpointing the location of individual paintings, allowing the user to select a location, view thumbnails of paintings painted of or in that location and see them in more detail, along with information about the artist. It’s a nice idea, reasonably well executed in many respects, though a bit awkward in others.

You can search for a particular location (or artist) or browse from the page of an existing location or work through thumbnails that link to more works from that location, more works by that artist, or links from an artist’s page to other artists they like.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. Provocative. I love the section on what people have begun to do with Google Art.