Paul Gauguin: The Other and I
Apr. 28, 2023 - Aug. 6, 2022
MASP PRESENTS A CRITICAL EXHIBITION ON THE PRODUCTION OF FRENCH PAINTER PAUL GAUGUIN
The exhibition and its catalogue discuss – through 40 paintings and engravings from major international institutions, as well as unpublished essays – the artist’s relationship with the contested ideas of exoticizing the “other” and his representation of the “tropics”
April 28 to August 6, 2023
MASP — Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand presents, from April 28 through August 6, 2023, the exhibition Paul Gauguin: O outro e eu [Paul Gauguin: The Other and I], which occupies the exhibition space on the 1st floor of the museum. Curated by Adriano Pedrosa, artistic director, MASP, Fernando Oliva, curator, MASP and Laura Cosendey, assistant curator, MASP, the exhibition brings together 40 works, between paintings and engravings, and critically discusses the post-impressionist artist’s relationship with the idea of alterity and the exoticization of the “other.” The project, which also includes the release of a catalogue with unpublished essays and 151 images, deals with issues that for a long time were left aside in exhibitions about Paul Gauguin (Paris, France, 1848 – Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia, 1903), especially the problematic way in which his work reinforced the idea of “other,” in addition to the tensions between his biography and the image he created of himself. The exhibition is sponsored by Bradesco, Vivo and Mattos Filho.
Gauguin produced his best-known paintings in Tahiti, representing both the landscapes of the place, as well as its people and customs. “His production from this period raises themes such as contested notions of primitivism, representations of the ‘exotic’ and the ‘tropics,’ and cultural appropriation; in addition to issues related to sexuality, androgyny and eroticization of the female body. Although many times they have been taken for faithful reproductions of French Polynesia, these works carry within themselves the fantasies that a white and European man had of a region considered paradisiacal, untouched by European ‘civilization,’” analyze curators Fernando Oliva and Laura Cosendey.
Paul Gauguin: The Other and I is the first exhibition in Brazil to critically address the central contents of the artist’s work, focusing on two emblematic themes that emerge in the works presented at MASP: the self-portraits and works produced during his stay in Tahiti (French Polynesia), which became some of the best known of his career. Among the 40 works in the exhibition, two of them belong to the MASP collection: Self-Portrait (Near Golgotha) and Poor Fisherman, both from 1896. The rest are loans from 19 renowned international institutions, such as the Musée d’Orsay (Paris, France), Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA), Getty Museum (Los Angeles, USA), Museum of Fine Arts (Budapest, Hungary), National Gallery and Tate (both in London, UK).
In Self-Portrait (Near Golgotha), acquired by MASP in 1951, the artist synthesizes and transcends the very theme of “the other and I,” by portraying himself with characteristics similar to the figure of Jesus, with long hair and a tunic, and located near Golgotha, as stated in the title of the work. Added to these elements is his “Inca profile,” always prominent in his self-portraits, accentuating the straight lines of his nose – an identity claimed by him, who did not identify himself as a typical Parisian artist.
The impact caused by his pictorial work, which inaugurated a new way of thinking about painting and the appropriation of images, also has repercussions on his life choices, which are still a matter of debate today, being decisive for the vision created around his figure. A “misunderstood genius,” as the artist proclaimed, not belonging to a European “civility,” the delivery of his painting to the visuality of distant and little-explored worlds were often performed by the artist himself.
“As a result of extensive iconographic research, we know of numerous visual culture references used by Gauguin – his ‘imaginary museum’ – complementing those found among the artist’s belongings in his studio after his death. The same reproduction of images also occurs in his body of work: paintings with individual characters or small groups are replicated in other works, until they reach larger compositions as in Faa Iheihe (1898). The artist juxtaposes his figures with subtle variations. He starts not only citing the work of other artists, but his own, in a kind of dialogue with himself,” explain the curators.
Egyptian and Japanese influences also emerge in the combination of images from Gauguin’s artistic and photographic references, which is evidenced in Poor Fisherman (1896). The central character was taken from a representation of Pharaoh Seti I in one of the reliefs of the Temple of Abydos, being represented in profile and with a geometrized gesture. With regard to the landscape in the background, the artist was influenced by the compositions of Japanese ukiyo-e prints, “stacking” the layers of the landscape vertically in the composition, in addition to bringing a characteristic treatment of the same visuality to natural elements, such as the mountains and the breaking of the waves in the sea. There is an element that adds yet another layer to these references: Poor Fisherman was also the title of an 1881 painting by Puvis de Chavanne (1824–1898), a leading figure in European painting of the generation before Gauguin.
Born in Paris, Gauguin devoted himself, above all, to painting, being considered an emblematic figure in the history of art for standing out from the pictorial conventions of the 19th century. He spent part of his childhood in Peru and it was only at the age of 35 that he began to dedicate himself exclusively to artistic work. He spent time in regions of France, such as Brittany and Arles, where he lived with the Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh during the intense months in which they shared a studio.
Frustrated with the artistic scene of the Parisian metropolis and experiencing financial difficulties, the artist had the desire to go after another experience of the world, in which he could combine his painting with imagery beyond the standards of European culture. This is when Gauguin traveled to Tahiti, in French Polynesia, in 1891 and, after an interval of two years in Paris, he returned to the Pacific, where he would remain until his death, in 1903, in the Marquesas Islands.
Paul Gauguin: The Other and I is part of a series of exhibitions that, sine 2016 with Histórias da Infância [Histories of Childhood], seeks to critically analyze canonical European artists in MASP’s permanent collection, problematizing these works of tradition in the light of contemporary issues. These individual shows are placed in dialogue with the museum’s annual cycle of exhibitions, as has already happened with Toulouse-Lautrec in red (on the year of Histórias da sexualidade [Histories of Sexuality], 2017) and Degas (on the year of Histórias da dança [Histories of Dance], 2020). Paul Gauguin: The Other and I is part of MASP’s annual program dedicated to Histórias indígenas [Indigenous Histories]. This year, the program also includes exhibitions by Carmézia Emiliano, MAHKU, Sheroanawe Hakihiiwe, Melissa Cody, in addition to the MASP Landmann lending of pre-Columbian ceramics and metals and the large collective Histórias indígenas [Indigenous Histories].
“The very status both of the self-portrait like the one of Gauguin as a modern artist, laden with criticism and polemics, goes beyond the condition of his mere permanence in the museum’s second-floor gallery, where he placidly spent the last seven decades, to find again, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, an art and museum context in full deconstruction, where there are many “others” to be contemplated, and where Gauguin and his ways of seeing himself and the other can be reinserted in new and unexpected ways, with the difference that, from now on, he will no longer be the only protagonist,” conclude Oliva and Cosendey.
On the occasion of the exhibition, two cataloguess will be published, in English and Portuguese, consisting of images and nine commissioned essays by key authors for the study and critical review of Gauguin’s work today – the result of an extensive international seminar entirely dedicated to the artist, organized by the exhibition’s curators and promoted by MASP in March 2022. The publication was organized by Adriano Pedrosa, Fernando Oliva and Laura Cosendey, and includes essays by Abigail Solomon-Godeau, Caroline Vercoe, Heather Waldroup, Irina Stotland, Linda Goddard, Ngahuia Te Awekotuku, Norma Broude, Stephen Eisenman and Tamar Garb, as well as Oliva and Cosendey. Designed by Luciana Facchini, the publication comes in a hardcover edition featuring 151 images.