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Past Exhibitions


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Gauguin and Polynesia: An Elusive Paradise

Feb 9 – Apr 29 2012

Seattle Art Museum

Simonyi Special Exhibition Galleries

Paul Gauguin (1848–1903) is one of the true larger-than-life figures in art history. The key feature in his personal mythology is the constant yearning for an exotic paradise. He sought it in the bohemian arts community at Pont-Aven on the coast of Brittany and later on the South Seas island of Tahiti. When that outpost of French colonialism began to feel too constraining, Gauguin moved to a still more remote location, the Marquesas Islands, where he died in 1903. His fascination with local cultures resulted in a kind of personal, syncretic iconography throughout his career.

Past exhibitions have addressed Gauguin’s involvement with other cultures in a fairly superficial way. Through a balanced contextual analysis of Polynesian art alongside Gauguin’s works, this exhibition brings Polynesian arts and culture into the center of Gauguin studies. The show will display about 60 works by Gauguin (paintings, sculpture, works on paper) that fully reveal the extent of the influence of Polynesian art and culture on his work. It will also highlight about 60 works from the Pacific that exemplify the dynamic exchanges of Pacific Island peoples with Europeans throughout the nineteenth century. In contrast to earlier exhibitions, which included Pacific objects primarily as a kind of visual background to Gauguin’s development as a modern European artist, the exhibition and its innovative approach promise new insights into the relationship between Gauguin’s art and Polynesian art.

–Chiyo Ishikawa, Susan Brotman Deputy Director for Art and Curator of European Painting and Sculpture, with Pam McClusky, Curator of Art of Africa and Oceania

Educational Resources
To explore this exhibition a little deeper, download our bibliography. Teachers, integrate Gauguin & Polynesia into your classroom with our Gauguin & Polynesia Educator Resource Guide.

News Coverage
The exhibit Gauguin would have killed to see, Crosscut
Gauguin with the Kids: Tips from Seattle Art Museum Educators, Parentmap
Seattle Art Museum salutes Gauguin and Polynesia, Seattle Gay News
Pop-Up: David Bali Studio at Gauguin at SAM, Seattle Metropolitan
SAM's Gauguin show gives equal due to different traditions, The Seattle Times
Gauguin and Polynesia': dazzling mix-and-match, The Seattle Times
Seattle's elusive treasure, the Gauguin exhibit at Seattle Art Museum, The Seattle Times
Paul Gauguin’s Polynesian “paradise”, Salon
Sleepless in Polynesia, The New York Sun
SAM meets Gauguin, KING 5 New Day Northwest
Gauguin's Inspiration, KING 5 Evening Magazine
SAM Features “Gaugin Polynesia: An Elusive Paradise”, CBS Seattle
Gauguin's struggle with authenticity lands at Seattle Art Museum, Crosscut
Gauguin & l’art maori s’exposent à Seattle, France-Amerique
Don't Call It A Gauguin Show, The Stranger
Slideshow: Gauguin and Polynesia at Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Metropolitan
Michael McCafferty Brings Gauguin into the SAM Dollhouse, Seattle Magazine
SAM's Gauguin 'Polynesia' exhibit is a U.S. exclusive, KOMO TV
Myth Takers, City Arts Magazine
CityStream Sneak Peek: Gauguin 2/29/2012, Seattle Channel

Arearea no varua ino (Reclining Tahitian Women), 1894, Paul Gauguin, French, 1848–1903, oil on canvas, 60 x 98 cm, Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, donated by Helge Jacobsen 1927