This is weird, but I get it: a group of protestors took up signs against the Impressionist master Pierre-Auguste Renoir at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. The protest was organized via an Instagram called “Renoir Sucks at Painting,” which yesterday published a call for the resignation of BMFA’s curators. Via the Boston Globe:
It’s nothing personal, says Ben Ewen-Campen, he just doesn’t think French impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir is much of a painter. Monday, the Harvard postdoc joined some like-minded aesthetes for a playful protest outside the Museum of Fine Arts. The rally, which mostly bewildered passersby, was organized by Max Geller, creator of the Instagram account Renoir Sucks at Painting, who wants the MFA to take its Renoirs off the walls and replace them with something better. Holding homemade signs reading “God Hates Renoir” and “Treacle Harms Society,” the protesters ate cheese pizza purchased by Geller, and chanted: “Put some fingers on those hands! Give us work by Paul Gauguin !” and “Other art is worth your while! Renoir paints a steaming pile!” Craig Ronan, an artist from Somerville, learned about the protest on Instagram and decided to join. “I don’t have any relationship with these people aside from wanting artistic justice,” he said. The museum hasn’t commented on the fledgling movement, but a few folks walking by Monday seemed amused. “I love their sense of irony,” said Liz Byrd, a grandmother from Phoenix who spent the morning in the museum with her daughter and grandchild. “I love Renoir, but I think this is great.”
That Instagram is loaded with detail shots of Renoir paintings purporting to show the artist’s ineptitude, and, far more amusingly, museumgoers flipping off paintings. And again, I get it. While Impressionism is correctly heralded in art history as the birth of the avant-garde for its rejection of academia, I personally—apart from a huge soft spot for Degas—kinda fucking hate it. It’s great for museums, as it’s the one movement that’s guaranteed to earn loads of admissions from affluent suburbanites who otherwise know approximately dick about art, but all that damned pastel-iness is nauseating. Its historical importance aside, that shit is why we now suffer the infernal art of Thomas Kinkade. When I read the news of this protest, I flashed back to a 20-year-old piece in The Baffler #8 called “Pelf and Powder Blue,” completely torpedoing contemporary reverence for the movement as the basis for a colossal scam:
Monet—and Impressionism generally—is a cultural miracle-worker capable of triggering pious, near-unanimous wonder on a scale Americans rarely encounter anymore. Decades pass, the economy slips, but Impressionism remains the golden genre, the magic formula capable of drawing the sturdy bourgeoisie of our homeland up in reverent mannered lines stretching placidly around the block. In those soft-focus Victorian scenes we catch a glimpse of that prelapsarian time when the rebel yawp of modernism—later to become so menacing and theoretical and satanic—resulted in nothing more threatening than pastel colors and nice renderings of lawn parties.
The appeal of Impressionism is a simple thing, really. More successfully than almost any other cultural offering available in America today, Impressionism brings the two most potent elements of consumerism—safeness and rebellion—together into a commodifiable whole duly certified by almost ridiculously sanguine market approval. This is why it’s the lawn parties and flower gardens of Monet and Renoir that win the public’s plaudits—never the dark Communard tones of Courbet—and why any exposition of their works must always make loud and public declarations of their subversive, radical, even revolutionary, daring.
The magic of impressionism, the secret formula that keeps its prices so eternally high, is that it gets it both ways, enjoying the eternal approbation of both Oldsmobile and art professor alike. On the one hand it is nice art, profoundly appealing to the very people artists strive endlessly to offend. (Relax with the smiling soft-focus ladies of Renoir, always enjoying a vacation at some modest pleasure spot. Luxuriate in the pleasant pastels of Monet, those soft pinks, purples, blues, and turquoises that can be found to match any suburban bathroom.) On the other hand, just as the Red Dog never appears without prudish tamers of some kind for him to defy, one never reads a discussion or sees an exhibit of Impressionism that neglects to mention over and over again the Impressionists’ exalted status as the very first bourgeoisie-shockers, orthodoxy-resisters, and rule-breakers. Their famous rejection by the French Salon is viewed by many as the starting point of modernism, the original cosmic exchange between intolerant patriarchs and rebel bohemians. With Impressionism you can have nice pictures of flowers and fantasies of persecution by an intolerant establishment, all in the same package.
So there’s that. Here are some images from “Renoir Sucks at Painting.” We at DM wish them all the best in their future endeavors.
Via ArtNet News