Sunday, March 18, 2012

Gauguin & Polynesia


As I said, it was a poster for Gauguin at the SAM that caught my eye and prompted our trip to Seattle.

Our trip to Seattle happened to coincide with the SAM's Community Day.  When we entered the museum, there was a band playing French café music, a nice touch that transported us to late nineteenth-century France--Gauguin's time. 

Gauguin & Polynesia: An Elusive Paradise surveyed the artists' art inspired by and created during his travels the islands.  The exhibit was organized coherently, beginning with some biography about Gauguin and his visit to the 1896 Paris World's Fair that in part inspired his later travels to Polynesia, and continuing on to his works.  This was not simply a retrospective of Gauguin's Polynesian works, the show gave equal attention to traditional Polynesian art objects.  The free audio-guide was also very well done; apparently narrated by Stanley Tucci (or a vocal doppelgänger), it featured experts in the field of Polynesian art and culture as well as Seattle residents of Polynesian descent.

I found Gauguin & Polynesia thoroughly thought-provoking:
  • Gauguin's Woman with a Flower reminded me of the Arlésiennes he and Van Gogh painted;
  • I considered the missionary dresses the Polynesian women wore as an element and symbol of colonial oppression;
  • I wondered about Polynesia life and economy prior to imperial contact;
  • Gauguin's Faaturuma (Melancholic) reminded me of Picasso's Blue period (which I had the opportunity to see in Amsterdam);
  • As Gauguin's first trip to Polynesia was funded in part by the French government to produce reportorial paintings, I thought of the potential problems in relying on such paintings and the advent of photography and photojournalism;
  • I found that some of the tikis' facial features (particularly the large eyes and mouths) resembled the facial features in Haida art.
The show was beautiful and made me eager to learn more about Polynesian art and culture.  The SAM is the only North American stop for Gauguin & Polynesia.  If you happen to be planning a trip to Seattle, you should definitely go.

(Exhibit image in collage via the SAM)

1 comment:

Kate Hutchinson said...

Several years ago, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston had a special exhibit of Gaughin in Tahiti. I really loved the exhibition and was struck by the way that Gaughin had made himself so comfortable in the culture, but also how he really turned Tahiti into a "sexual playland" for himself. In reading "London's Sinful Secret" this year, a book on 18th century London's sex industry, there was a section on how the discovery and colonialism budding in Tahiti created a new fad fantasy in Europe.

I'm sad I won't get to see this exhibit in Seattle.