A new exhibition uses photography, collage and video to reimagine – and defuse – one of art history’s most famous misogynists.
Artist Paul Gaugin was a chauvinist, a colonialist, and, like many celebrated painters, a pivotal perpetrator of the historical male gaze. His portraits presented native peoples as a sometimes barbaric, often sexualized fantasy. And if that doesn't bother you, perhaps his taking of underage brides in on the South Pacific Islands of Hiva and Tahiti in the late 1890’s, infecting them with syphilis and other diseases might make you twitch.
Despite being widely recognized and exhibited in most major institutions since his death, he was, like many men of art history, a predatory scumbag.
And here lies the jumping off point of Rachelle Mozman Solano’s latest exhibition Metamorphosis of Failure, on view through February at Smack Mellon in Brooklyn, NY. In Mozman-Solano’s series of films, staged portraits, and collages, she removes Gaugin's power, reimagining the mythology behind his conflicted French / Peruvian identity and satirically lampooning his search for subjects.
Mocking Gaugin's process with captions like "I Could Not Find The Authenticity I was Searching For," and " Here I am in Panama, In Excellent Health as Always," Mozman-Solano creates a sardonic narrative of Gaugin's process that empowers the women who were his muses. In no-frills studio setups, Gaugin's imagined conquests as well as an anonymous male figure dress in pseudo-nude body suits beside fake "native" plants in Home Depot buckets labeled "Let's Do This" and various other signs of perceived exoticism. Mozman-Solano's photographs and videos push the stories we know or imagine about Gaugin’s life and quests into absurdity that is light-hearted without simplifying or overlooking its history.
I spoke with Mozman-Solano to learn more about her show and interest in Gaugin.
Jon Feinstein in conversation with Rachelle Mozman Solano