Paul Gauguin (1848–1903) is regarded as one of the most important French modern artists of the 19th century. His modernity lies in the denial of a single style in painting and in the diversity of shapes and elements he used. Gauguin renewed the art of painting by incorporating references to images of the “other,” outside the European cultural panorama, with landscapes and characters from Tahiti, the island in the Pacific that is part of French Polynesia, where he moved at the end of his life.
This is the first exhibition to address critically the French artist’s problematic relationship with this “other,” as implied by its title. His oeuvre, particularly in the Tahiti period, is an extraordinary examination of the figure and color, as well as remarkably contemporary in the way he took iconographies from various cultures as his own, making them dialogue with the very tradition of Western painting. On the other hand, Gauguin also highlighted the “other” as exotic and primitive, in an imaginary longing for the “tropics,” an idyllic vision loaded with fictional tales and stereotypes and structured by a power relationship—between the “other” and the artist’s “I.” However, to make this narrative more complex, the artist called himself “primitive” and “savage” and spoke of his “Inca blood,” since his mother was Peruvian and he had lived in Lima as a child. In any case, it is evident that his paintings eroticize the body of Indigenous women, emphasizing a supposed sexual availability to the eyes and paints of the white European man.
It was the search for a purer, more authentic art, as well as for paradises supposedly unspoiled by civilization, that led Gauguin to leave France to settle in Tahiti, nowadays still a French possession in Polynesia. He moved there in 1891, at the age of 43, and lived there until his death, with a two-year hiatus in Paris, where he returned in order to exhibit and sell his works. The relationship with the “other” is always given based on the artist’s self, hence the show also focuses on Gauguin’s self-portraits.
Gauguin made radical experiments with painting, printmaking, and sculpture in wood and ceramics, always searching for new artistic techniques, producing fascinating and seductive works and, at the same time, creating a past in a profound—and problematic—way. In recent decades, the history of art has been increasingly revisited and challenged, especially regarding problematic relationships with the “other.” Thus, this exhibition intends to draw attention to the fact that, for an “other” art history, which does not belong to the mainstream tradition or does not depend on who utters the sentence, Gauguin may also be seen as an “other.”
The exhibition is part of MASP's annual program dedicated to 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 Indigenous Histories.
Paul Gauguin: The Other and I is curated by Adriano Pedrosa, artistic director, MASP; Fernando Oliva, curator, MASP; Laura Cosendey, assistant curator, MASP.