This latest Art Centre Basel exhibition will examine the complex and dynamic relationship between the artworks of Paul Gauguin and the Polynesian art he encountered after his arrival in Tahiti in 1891.
The exhibition has been created and organized for Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek and Seattle Art Museum by Art Centre Basel.
To better analyze the fascinating encounter between European and Polynesian culture, we are also looking more broadly at the larger development of art in the Pacific in the era since European contact, and our presentation traces the development of that art both before and after Gauguin’s time in Polynesia in the fin de siècle.
Through a balanced contextual analysis of Polynesian art alongside Gauguin’s works, the exhibition brings Polynesian arts and culture into the centre of Gauguin studies. The exhibition displays more than 60 works by Gauguin that fully reveal the extent of the influence of Polynesian art and culture on his work, while it also highlights 60 works from the Pacific that exemplify the dynamic exchanges of Pacific Island peoples with Europeans throughout the nineteenth century. Our emphasis on the exchanges between these two cultures separates this project from previous Gauguin-related exhibitions that have focused more exclusively on the European-centered idea of modernist primitivism in the French avant-garde circles to which Gauguin belonged.
The catalogue Gauguin Polynesia (edited by Suzanne Greub and published by Hirmer Munich) includes essays and texts by an international team of prominent art historians and anthropologists: Suzanne Greub, Flemming Friborg, Douglas Druick, Peter Zegers, Véronique Mu- Liepmann, Carol S. Ivory, Marie-Noëlle Ottino-Garanger, Isabelle Cahn, Anne D’Alleva, Stéphane Guégan, Bronwen Nicholson, Elizabeth C. Childs, Caroline Vercoe.
This exhibition topic is the first one in a thematically related trilogy of exhibitions about the influence of tribal cultures on great artistic positions and movements, beginning in the late 19th century. The other two related exhibtions are “The Exotic in Surrealism” and “Inventing a New Language: Native American Art/American Abstract Expressionism”.
Exhibition Curator: Suzanne Greub, Art Centre Basel
Copenhagen (DK), Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek (September 24, 2011 - December 31, 2011)
Seattle, WA (USA), Seattle Art Museum (February 9, 2012 - April 29, 2012)
Brian Sewell, the well known British art critic for the London Evening Standard, lists our catalogue Gauguin Polynesia as one of the 10 best art books of the year 2011:
“This substantial catalogue of an exhibition shared by the Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen (where more wisely could such a show be based?) and the Seattle Art Museum is the most complete and detailed account so far of Gauguin's work (though not his sexual adventures, syphilis and death) in Tahiti, the Marquesas Islands and elsewhere in Polynesia (even New Zealand, usually forgotten). Nevertheless, embracing - as it does - his time in Copenhagen, Brittany and Martinique, his earlier (European) interest in the erotic, and such sources of its influence as the World Fair of 1889 in Paris, it is usefully devoted to the complete Gauguin as an artist, illustrated comprehensively and well. It is also illuminating in its parallel commentary on native Polynesian culture and artefacts, and on the destructive colonialism of the day; the early photographs of natives, revealing, amusing and melancholy, record the rapid waning of a way of life that had lasted for millennia. For Gauguin the wanderer destroyed by lust, the reader must look elsewhere. It is a great pity that this book was not available when Tate Modern mounted its Gauguin exhibition two years ago.”
The London Evening Standard online ed.
“The 2011 Gauguin show at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek was a highly intelligent and thought-provoking exhibition, focusing on Gauguin’s developing concept of the primitive and the influence of Polynesian art on his work in the South Seas. The exhibition was very well curated and beautifully designed with telling juxtapositions that offered many useful new insights into the artist’s vision and achievement.”
John Leighton, Director General, National Museums of Scotland, after visiting “Gauguin Polynesia” at the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen/Denmark
“The Seattle Art Museum appreciates the collaboration with the Art Centre Basel to present the landmark exhibition, Gauguin & Polynesia: An Elusive Paradise, which has inspired public and critical praise around the Northwestern U.S. The premise of the exhibition came from Art Centre Basel’s Director Suzanne Greub. Art Centre Basel successfully negotiated loans for approximately 120 important works from over forty institutions and individuals. In addition, Art Centre Basel produced the beautiful and scholarly catalogue, which has been very well-received.”
Seattle Art Museum, the second host museum of the Art Centre Basel exhibition “Gauguin Polynesia”
“DAZZLING is the defining word for the extraordinary display of works by Paul Gauguin at the Seattle Art Museum. The exhibit is another dual triumph of art and culture (…) SAM’s Gauguin exhibit has the capacity to rival the Picasso exhibition as an event and economic powerhouse.”
The Seattle Times, February 10, 2012
“’Gauguin would have killed to see this exhibition,’ exclaimed Richard Brettell, an authority on 19th- and early 20th-century French painting, during the opening week of the Seattle Art Museum's splashy new Gauguin show, Gauguin and Polynesia: An Elusive Paradise.”
CrossCut.com, February 24, 2012
“Just a brief note of appreciation and congratulations. I did get to the opening of the show in Seattle, and it was quite wonderful, brought fully to life by a local troop of Polynesian dancers who were superb, and who brought an edge of contemporary Pacific Islander culture to the event. The show looks just great--the local curators did a superb job of installing it. And I got to see Carol [Ivory] and walk through discussing it.
I'll be going back to give a lecture, and will spend more time, but this was a superb beginning. Just wanted to let you know how well the opening went, and to say thank you again for our long-term involvement. I am proud to be part of the team that produced this show.” (13 February 2012)
Elizabeth C. Childs
Associate Professor and Chairperson at the Dept. of Art History and Archaeology, Washington University, St. Louis, MO), whom Art Centre Basel invited to write an essay for our publication “Gauguin Polynesia”
"Dear Dr. Greub, I am dazzled by and grateful for the magnificent and fascinating GAUGUIN POLYNESIA catalogue. Congratulations. […] With thanks." (3 November, 2011)
Director, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice
“[…] The exhibit's impeccable flow and lighting, make "Gauguin and Polynesia" near perfect.”
Seattle Times, February 8, 2012
"I recently purchased your Gauguin exhibition catalogue. I thought it was extraordinary! To present the Pacific material culture with his work was outstanding and a real contribution to Pacific and Gauguin scholarship. Congratulations." (23 February 2012)
Tony Ellwood, Director
Queensland Art Gallery - Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, Australia
This exhibition topic is the first one in a thematically related trilogy of exhibitions about the influence of tribal cultures on great artistic positions and movements, beginning in the late 19th century.