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Artists >> The Polynesian Connection
The Polynesian Connection
(8/30/2013)

  • Paul Gauguin died a pauper on the Marquesan island of Hiva Oa in 1903 and was buried in an unrecorded grave. In 1921 local residents picked a site in the island’s old cemetery to serve as the artist’s burial place, and in 1973 it was embellished with a replica of Gauguin’s sculpture of the Tahitian goddess Oviri. The “grave” is now a major tourist attraction on the island.

    Gauguin’s fictive resting place tidies up his biographical story, but there is no corresponding order in recent debates about the facts and fantasies that inspired his South Sea paintings. A new and potentially subversive argument about the interplay between the paintings and island cultures was offered this spring in the Seattle Art Museum’s exhibition “Gauguin and Polynesia.” Organized by the Art Centre Basel and conceived by a team of specialists in European and Oceanic art, the show was designed to “bring Gauguin’s paintings and sculptures face to face with a large number of Polynesian cult and art objects.” The Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen premiered the exhibition, and Seattle was its only venue in the United States. 

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