Saturday, August 05, 2017

Mediums, Well: Art Institute's Gauguin Exhibit Aptly Illustrates the Diverse Explorations of an Ever-Restless Artist -- Art Review

Art Exhibition Review

Gauguin: Artist as Alchemist
Art Institute of Chicago
Thru September 10

How does one fairly assess an art exhibit?

Without pretending I have the wherewithal to offer a scholarly critique, my reviews of museum exhibitions--as with almost any other type of show, including live performances--aim to address whether attending is worth one's time, money and effort...and to what degree.

Regarding the Art Institute of Chicago's latest survey of a famous artist, the answer for me personally is a definitive, "Yes, very much so."

In fact, after feeling a bit rushed the first time I saw the exhibit, I decided to Gauguin.

That translates to "Go again" for those who lack punderstanding or aren't aware that the 19th century French painter--but not only, as the exhibit well-showcases--Paul Gauguin's surname is pronounced roughly "Go-gan."

But such an answer may be much easier and more decisive on an individual level than a universal one.

Paul Gauguin, Interior of the Painter's House, rue Carcel, 1881
I live an hourlong transit commute from the Art Institute, am happy to get there a good handful of times each year, will almost always see--and typically enjoy--their large-scale exhibitions about artists I know in idioms I like, am pretty familiar with the museum's outstanding permanent collection and freely attend each visit as part of a yearly membership. (Standard admission is up to $25, with an additional $7 for the Gauguin: Artist as Alchemist exhibit for non-members.)

Having visited over 150 major art museums worldwide, often as a focal point of my travels and occasionally up to four in a day, I'm well aware that the merits of seeing a special exhibit can vary by contexts.

In terms of the Gauguin exhibit--which features a relatively limited number of "Oh, wow!" paintings as it depicts the artist's fertile creative reach across sculpture, ceramics, wood carving, printmaking, etc.--this would be my advice for various potential audiences:

Paul Gauguin and Emile Bernard, Earthly Paradise, 1888
- If you are an Art Institute member,  Gauguin: Artist as Alchemist is by all means well-worth getting to.

- If you knowingly like Gauguin's painting style and/or appreciate artistic processes in an academic sense, the exhibit justifies the extra $7, a special trip to the museum or up to 2 hours of a longer Art Institute visit. (For ways to avoid General Admission, see the Free Admission Opportunities section on this page, as well as Bank of America's Museums on Us promotion.)

- If you visit the Art Institute as a tourist--particularly one with limited time to allot--unless the above applies to you I think you'd be better off focusing on the permanent collection, which still includes some Gauguin paintings as good as many in the exhibit.

- Unless you're a Gauguinologist, the exhibit in itself likely doesn't merit plane travel.

The exhibit is excellent in terms of being a well-curated, thoroughly-researched, scholarly exploration of a well-known post-Impressionist most famed for painting subjects in Tahiti, but who worked impressively many in mediums and venues. (It was interesting to note that when Gauguin went to Tahiti in the later years of his career, he was vexed to find it so colonialized and frequently painted people to look far more "native" than he actually encountered them.)

Even in a relatively casual walk through the numerous galleries, one should appreciate how Gauguin incorporated recurring subjects and themes across different idioms, locales and/or eras, such as seated women (as shown nearby), a motif he initially portrayed during his time in the Brittany region of France..

Simply at face value, much of Gauguin's non-painting work is quite beautiful, such as the Earthly Paradise cabinet shown above, which he carved and painted in conjunction with his contemporary Emile Bernard.

I'll include more pictures of various types of pieces below to provide a better sense of what you'll see in Artist as Alchemist, which per its introduction, "delves deeply into the artist's radical experiments in the applied arts."

I relished the illumination provided--twice--but in keeping with my general affinities, most embraced and best recall the large, colorful paintings, of which there are about 15. (Simply in this regard, there are nice insights about how Gauguin deviated from many of the Impressionists, even those who influenced him.)

If your abiding interest in art, as essentially is mine, is simply to see "pretty pictures," you'll certainly get that in this exhibit, but not really predominantly. Nor to the extent of mind-blowing wonder the Art Institute's astonishing Impressionism collection provides, along with fantastic holdings in many realms.

I don't think anyone who opts to view Gauguin: Artist as Alchemist--especially if understanding the multidisciplinary focus--should come away disappointed, but whether it's "worth seeing" can largely depend on one's own tastes, time, priorities and budget.


No comments: