by Frank Lewis
Lemonedes, together with guest carator Agnieska Juszczak of Amsterdam’s Van Gogh Museum (the only other place the exhibit will appear) and Gauguin expert Belinda Thomson of the University of Edinburgh, has assembled a show focused on that 1889 salon, which hung in a restaurant called the Café des Arts run by a Monsieur Volpini. Like many contemporary exhibits whose curators understand that the average person doesn’t necessarily have the knowledge to make connections, the show provides copious backstory and explanations. It opens with a room devoted to the exposition itself, including the construction of the Eiffel Tower, setting the context for the project by Gauguin and his friends whose styles were considered too avant-garde for the exposition’s more conservative official art exhibition. It offers a selection of not only Gauguin’s paintings that were shown but also those of his lesser known colleagues, showing how they influenced each other, and especially the influence of the rugged coast of Brittany where many of them spent time working and painting together.
The Volpini Suite, the subject of two full rooms, is also a wellspring of information about Gauguin’s key artistic interests, as he appears to have distilled them into these 11 prints. Among the coups in the show is the reuniting for the first time of a hand-colored version of the series that Gauguin did, with 10 of the prints in display. Lemonedes says that the location of the 11th is a mystery. It may be lost or it may be in a private collection somewhere, and she’s hoping that this show might smoke it out if it still exists.
One of the intriguing aspects of the show is all the painters’ sympathetic fascination with women as their prime subject, women who were neither idealized nor debased, but depicted in all their diversity of roles, modes and personalities. The show is full of discoveries: wood carvings by Gauguin that reflect the themes in his paintings; a self-portrait that depicts in the background the painting “In the Waves,” now in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s collection and the exhibition’s signature image (it was part of the 1889 exhibition).
Tickets are $12 adults, $10 college students and seniors, $6 ages 6-18. The show runs through January 18. — Anastasia Pantsios