Recognized for his experimental use of color, French artist Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) is also famed for depicting an Orientalist worldview in his paintings.
Now an exhibition in Berlin is taking a critical look at the artist's renowned works in light of contemporary debates surrounding colonialism, sexism and racism.
At the Alte Nationalgalerie exhibition, "Paul Gauguin - Why Are You Angry?", Gaugain's works are juxtaposed against those of contemporary artists who have adopted Gauguin's themes.
The exhibition, a collaboration with the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen, can be seen until July 10 on Berlin's famous Museum Island.
The title of the exhibition refers to the video work of the same name "Why Are You Angry?" by Rosalind Nashashibi and Lucy Skaer.
With it, the two British artists confront Gauguin's painting "No te aha oe riri" (Why Are You Angry?) from 1896. Here, the artist's underage wife was the model, but the painting also picks up his colonial view of Tahitian women and impressions from their lives.
In the view of Ralph Gleis, director of the Alte Nationalgalerie, Gauguin tried to realize his dream of a life beyond bourgeois ideas in a "constant search for the original" outside European society with "remarkable radicalism," a line of thought that would see Gauguin refer to himself as a "savage."
His version of Tahiti had more in common with his own desires and dreams than with reality. For Gleis, Gauguin fails to live up to the idea he set up for himself.
The exhibition is not a retrospective of Gauguin's work but aims to take a focused look at this white colonialist and his own contradictions. For Gleis, the current debates on how Europe needs to own up to the impact of its colonial heritage cannot be ignored. It is the responsibility of the museum to establish this context.