Monday, October 5, 2009

Gauguin's waves

Having just plunged into this blog by creating my metaphor about the world as museum, I'll make that metaphor literal with last week's experience in an actual, non-metaphorical museum. At the Cleveland Museum of Art, a show just opened called Paul Gauguin: Paris 1889. It explores, and virtually recreates the exhibit that Gauguin and his friends created at the Café des Arts in Paris, as a resistance and alternative to the establishment paintings shown at the official exposition.

Collaboration amongst these then-unknown artists, in the interests of self-promotion, created a nexus of images that circulate among them, motifs that appear and reappear as one and then another tries his (yes, they are all men) hand at a motif. It reminds me of Keats and his friends' sonnet contests ("write a sonnet on the River Nile"), this time with French motifs, such as the fierce waves of the Breton coast.

The central work in the exhibition is In the Waves (the picture's from the CMA website).

I grew up with this picture. My grandfather, Frank Hadley Ginn, bought it, probably in the 1920s, and hung it in his house in Gates Mills, Ohio, outside Cleveland (my parents gave it to the museum in 1978). The exhibition helped me see that my grandfather, a corporate lawyer who built a beautiful but quite conservative stockbroker-Tudor home, had a radical taste in art. This image even now sears the eye with its powerful colors, its strange surreal flatness, its oscillation of focus (the articulated back of the nude bather; the Japanese-stylized waves; the strange and haunting green of the sea; the fascinating outline of the intense red hair). I would like to know more about what he saw in it, but since most of his personal papers are gone, I can't.

Museums at their best take images that you've lived with (perhaps not as literally as for me in this case) and make you look as if you've never seen them before.


Harry Hoover said...

I like your blog, Nick, and want to learn how to communicate and share within it. So this is a test to see if anytning I write to it will "take".

nicksuejones said...

Delighted to have you "in the waves."