“Two brilliant women and one tremendous idea! @theartmarket_ca.”
- maggie rust, Art toronto coordinator & art blogger
We recently organized a road trip south to check out the much talked about Gauguin & Polynesia: An Elusive Paradise at the Seattle Art Museum. This landmark show highlights the complex relationship between Paul Gauguin's work and the art and culture of Polynesia. We’re a little starved for big blockbuster exhibitions in Vancouver, so when a show of such importance makes its only stop in North America just south of the border, we knew we couldn’t miss out.
Even over 100 years after his death, Gauguin (1848–1903) and his rebellious ways continue to fascinate us. Leaving his bourgeois life as a Parisian stockbroker behind in search of paradise in Tahiti, this timeless tale is still one we can relate to, even if only in our dreams. It’s a turn of the century version of Into the Wild with vibrant, tropical colours.
As it turned out, we weren’t the only ones looking forward to the exhibition. Even though the show opened February 9, the museum was packed with visitors flocking to see Gauguin and his elusive paradise. Maybe it was the opportunity to see masterpieces from one of the most important names in Post-Impressionism, the interesting pairing with artefacts of the South Pacific, or even the need to escape the grey winter days in Seattle, but whatever the reason, the crowds kept coming.
The SAM did an excellent job at getting people excited about the exhibition. A section of their website is devoted entirely to the show and includes, in addition to all the typical background history, a map to follow Gauguin’s journey and podcasts from the audio guide for those who cannot physically make it to the SAM. There is even a chance to win a cruise to Tahiti (pick me)!
What’s interesting is that I couldn’t help but draw strong comparisons between Paul Gauguin and Emily Carr. Both artists practiced in Paris and other parts of France, though neither were happiest painting in an urban environment. Both yearned for raw and unconquered lands and traveled great distances for their inspiration. While Gauguin chose French Polynesia, Carr departed for the rugged and untamed environment of coastal British Columbia. At the time, paintings depicting the local art and culture of the indigenous people were so exotic to westerners who had never traveled to these remote areas, if at all. However, nowadays with so much of the world having been “conquered” by humans, these paintings of Tahiti and BC are important as a historical record of a culture whose traditions were passed down verbally through generations.
Though Gauguin was in fact commissioned by the French government to paint the Tahitian people, what was captured in these pieces was so much more than simply a historical record. Subtleties in a gaze, the contrast of traditional and missionary clothing and the allure of women were set off with radiant hues in luscious landscapes. Details, as interpreted by a European male, were sometimes exaggerated or imagined to appeal to the Parisian art market. Yet just because he introduced some of his own fantasy to his art, Gauguin still manages to transport us to a different time and place with beauty and freedom, even beyond the grave.
If you want to escape to see Gauguin & Polynesia: An Elusive Paradise for yourself, stop by the Seattle Art Museum by April 29, 2012.