Gaugin too evil to be shown?

I am reminded of the time a century or so ago, when actors and many other artists were not accepted in polite society.  Sounds harsh, but at least people could admire the work someone did without feeling the need to accept their behavior. “We don’t speak to him.” I think we need a dose of that in the modern world.
Currently there’s a question about whether museums should continue displaying Gauguin’s art since he slept with his underage models- and they were ‘savages’.
We can accept the good someone did, while rejecting their moral choices- especially when they are dead and gone. In no way does admiring Gauguin’s colors and composition condone his participation in colonialism or sexual abuse (or colonialism and sexual abuse themselves). Has it been proven to have been abuse, or is that simply an interpretation laid over it by current attitudes? Do we know that the women he slept with were coerced? That culture had different attitudes toward sex than we have, and they had at the time. Would it have been OK had they been French? or over 16? Or is it simply that the balance of power was very unequal?

Should we reject, or even destroy a work of art (as the Taliban does), because it was inspired by a faith we reject? Certainly if knowing something that renders the art on your wall a constant reminder of a situation that makes you uncomfortable, get rid of it. But destroying a work of art because it bothers you may not be admired by others who it doesn’t bother.
I compare this to the issue Science Fiction cons faced recently that authors they wanted to come and speak about their work were taking sexual advantage of susceptible fans, and the con organizers had to decide whether they would bar sexual predictors in order to protect the attendees. Does the enjoyment of the many outweigh the trauma of the few? I’d say not.

Anytime there is a power imbalance, whether it’s adult/minor, teacher/student, employer/employee, or celebrity/fan, there will be some people who will use that to take advantage of others. Whether threats are made or pressure brought to bear, the simple power imbalance lays a greater responsibility on the person with the power. So I can acknowledge that Gauguin may have been out of line. We don’t know that, but I accept the possibility, simply because of what we know about Colonialism.
Does this mean we “don’t accept them into polite society”? I’d say yes because they have betrayed the trust of their greater responsibility.  I think we can say to them “Sorry, you’re a great artist/ player/ teacher, but your behavior is not acceptable. You are not welcome here.” Some will make fun of this. Some will suggest hypocrisy. But I think we need to decide what we find acceptable and what we don’t.
That said, do we extend this exclusion to their works? I suppose that depends on whether you feel that since they are profiting by your patronage, that patronage makes you complicit in their bad behavior. If they are dead, does that still hold?
If we say that Gaugin’s art wasn’t powerful because he was an asshole, we are lying ourselves. While the Science Fiction Cons- or schools- arguably need to provide a safe place for attendees, do Art Museums have an obligation to share every bit of dirt possible on their exhibitors and inform their patrons? (Maybe only the live ones?)
Do you require other establishments with whom you do business to do the same about the source of their services and products? I know that we avoid chocolate and other products made by companies whose labor practices approach slavery. Boycotting grapes in the 60’s dramatically showed the producers that we were willing to pay more to not be part of their abuse of farm workers. We boycotted Nestlé in the 70s for pushing powdered formula in Africa, and now we do for their appropriation of water sources. (Really, could their business model be more evil?)
For me the question is whether the behavior to which I object is still going on, and can I do anything about it? You make your own decision on this.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.