Is It Time Gauguin Got Canceled?
LONDON — “Is it time to stop looking at Gauguin altogether?”
That’s the startling question visitors hear on the audio guide as they walk through the “Gauguin Portraits” exhibition at the National Gallery in London. The show, which runs through Jan. 26, focuses on Paul Gauguin’s depictions of himself, his friends and fellow artists, and of the children he fathered and the young girls he lived with in Tahiti.
伦敦国家美术馆举办的“高更肖像”（Gauguin Portraits）展览上，参观者在语音导览里听到了这样一个令人惊诧的问题。该展览将持续到1月26日，主要展出保罗·高更（Paul Gauguin）的肖像画，描绘的对象包括他本人、他的朋友和其他艺术家、他的孩子们，以及在大溪地和他一起生活的女孩。
The standout portrait in the exhibition is “Tehamana Has Many Parents” （1893）. It pictures Gauguin’s teenage lover, holding a fan.
展览中格外引人注目的是作于1893年的《塔哈马纳的祖辈》（Tehamana Has Many Parents）。画中描绘了高更的少女情人手持扇子的形象。
The artist “repeatedly entered into sexual relations with young girls, ‘marrying’ two of them and fathering children,” reads the wall text. “Gauguin undoubtedly exploited his position as a privileged Westerner to make the most of the sexual freedoms available to him.”
Born in Paris, the son of a radical journalist, Gauguin spent his early years in Peru before returning to France. He took up painting in his 20s, while working as a stockbroker, a profession he would soon give up — along with his wife and children — to make art full time. He set sail for Tahiti in 1891, searching for the exotic surroundings he had known as a boy in Peru. Gauguin spent most of the 12 remaining years of his life in Tahiti and on the French Polynesian island of Hiva Oa, cohabiting with adolescent girls, fathering more children, and producing his best-known paintings.
In the international museum world, Gauguin is a box-office hit. There have been a half-dozen exhibitions of his work in the last few years alone, including important shows in Paris, Chicago and San Francisco. Yet in an age of heightened public sensitivity to issues of gender, race and colonialism, museums are having to reassess his legacy.
A couple of decades ago, an exhibition on the same theme “would have been a great deal more about formal innovation,” said Christopher Riopelle, a co-curator of the National Gallery show. Now, everything must be viewed “in a much more nuanced context,” he added.
“I don’t think, any longer, that it’s enough to say, ‘Oh well, that’s the way they did it back then,’ ” he said.
Mr. Riopelle described Gauguin as “a very complicated person, a very driven person, a very callous person,” and said he was “disappointed” that his overwhelming urge to make art “led him to hurt or use so many people badly.”
The show was co-produced with the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa and opened in Ottawa in late May. A few days before the opening, the museum’s newly appointed director, Sasha Suda, and the exhibition’s curators decided to edit some of the wall texts after touring the show. Nine labels were changed to avoid culturally insensitive language, according to the museum’s press office.
In Ottawa, the title “Head of a Savage, Mask” was shown with an extended label explaining that the words ‘savage’ and ‘barbarian,’ “considered offensive today, reflect attitudes common to Gauguin’s time and place.” Elsewhere, his “relationship with a young Tahitian woman” was changed to “his relationship with a 13- or 14-year-old Tahitian girl.”
在渥太华，《野蛮人头像（面具）》（Head of a Savage, Mask）附有一个详尽的标签，解释“savage”（野人）和“barbarian”（蛮人）这样的词语“在今天被认为具有侵犯性，但反映了高更所处时代与地域普遍存在的态度”。还有一些地方把他“与一名大溪地年轻女性的关系”改为“他与一名13或14岁的大溪地女孩的关系”。
Ms. Suda said that out of 2,313 feedback cards submitted by visitors at the Canadian exhibition, about 50 were complaints about Gauguin and about the museum programming.
The show should “have addressed these issues in a more open and transparent way that connected with contemporary audiences,” Ms. Suda said in an interview. Addressing “blind spots” in the work of historical artists “could make those artists more relevant,” she added.
To other museum professionals, re-examining the lives of past artists from a 21st-century perspective is risky, because it could lead to the boycott of great art.
“The person, I can totally abhor and loathe, but the work is the work,” said Vicente Todolí, who was Tate Modern’s director when it staged a major Gauguin exhibition in 2010, and is now the artistic director of the Pirelli HangarBicocca art foundation in Milan.
位于米兰的倍耐力比可卡机库（Pirelli HangarBicocca）艺术基金会总监维森特·托多利（Vicente Todolí）说：“对于这个人，我可以完全憎恶和讨厌，但作品就是作品。”托多利曾任泰特现代艺术馆馆长，任内该馆于2010年举办了高更的大型作品展。
“Once an artist creates something, it doesn’t belong to the artist anymore: It belongs to the world,” he said. Otherwise, he cautioned, we would stop reading the anti-Semitic author Louis-Ferdinand Céline, or shun Cervantes and Shakespeare if we found something unsavory about them.
Yet Ashley Remer, a New Zealand-based American curator who in 2009 founded girlmuseum.org, an online museum focused on the representation of young girls in history and culture, insisted that in Gauguin’s case the man’s actions were so egregious that they overshadowed the work.
“He was an arrogant, overrated, patronizing pedophile, to be very blunt,” she said. If his paintings were photographs, they would be “way more scandalous,” and “we wouldn’t have been accepting of the images,” she added.
Ms. Remer questioned the constant exhibitions of Gauguin and the Austrian artist Egon Schiele, who also depicted nude underage models, and the ways those shows were put together. “I’m not saying take down the works: I’m saying lay it all bare about the whole person,” she said.
Gauguin remains a tourist draw in Polynesia and the South Pacific. There is even a luxury cruise line that tours the region that is named after him. But to many locals, the painter’s clichéd representations of lush, exotic islands full of dusky maidens with no voice or identity are tiresome.
“Gauguin, you piss me off,” begins “Two Nudes On a Tahitian Beach, 1894,” a poem by the New Zealand poet and academic Selina Tusitala Marsh.
“高更，你把我惹火了，”这是新西兰诗人和学者赛琳娜·杜西塔拉·马什（Selina Tusitala Marsh）的诗作《1894年，大溪地海滩上的两个裸体》（Two Nudes On a Tahitian Beach, 1894）的开头。
The anonymity of his Tahitian portraits is another cause of frustration. In the 2009 photographic series “Dee and Dallas Do Gauguin,” the New Zealand-born Samoan artist Tyla Vaeau has cut out the faces in Gauguin reproductions and inserted photos of her own sister and friend.
他的大溪地肖像的匿名性是另一个引发不满的地方。在2009年的摄影系列“迪和达拉斯仿高更”（Dee and Dallas Do Gauguin）中，新西兰出生的萨摩亚族艺术家泰拉·瓦伊奥（Tyla Vaeau）剪下了高更作品复制品上的面孔，换成了她姐妹和朋友的照片。
Gauguin’s art is a problem “if it continues to be used to frame the Pacific in this timeless, semi-damaged past, when actually there’s so much going on,” said Caroline Vercoe, a senior lecturer in art history at the University of Auckland who is part Samoan and is participating in the National Gallery in London’s talk and film program. “It’s such a lively and dynamic culture within the indigenous context as well.”
Even to his admirers, Gauguin invites questioning. The African-American painter Kehinde Wiley — who described Gauguin as one of his idols in a 2017 interview, but also as “creepy” — recently painted a series in Tahiti inspired by Gauguin that depicts the mahu, a nonbinary community considered a “third gender” in Polynesia.
“I love his paintings, but I find him a little bit strange,” Mr. Wiley says in a National Gallery film. “The ways we see black and brown bodies from the Pacific are shot through his sense of desire. But how do you change the narrative? How do you change the way of looking?”
To ensure that Gauguin’s artistic legacy is not besmirched by his “marriages” to underage girls, these relationships should be covered in exhibitions, said Line Clausen Pedersen, a Danish curator who has put on several Gauguin shows. With each exhibition, “another layer is peeled off the protection of history that he has somehow enjoyed,” she said. “Maybe the time is ripe to take off more layers than before.”
制作过多场高更展的丹麦策展人里恩·克劳森·佩德森（Line Clausen Pedersen）说，为了确保高更的艺术遗产不会被他与未成年女孩的“婚姻”关系所污染，展览中应包含这些关系。每举办一次展览，“他曾经享受过的历史保护就被揭掉一层，”她说。“也许现在可以揭掉更多的保护层了。”
“What’s left to say about Gauguin,” she added, “is for us to bring out all the dirty stuff.”