Bil Browning

Gauguin Painting Attacked for 'Homosexual' Theme

Filed By Bil Browning | April 05, 2011 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Living
Tags: National Gallery of Art, oil painting, Paul Gauguin

Last Friday, a visitor attacked a Paul Gauguin painting at the National Museum of Art. gauguin.jpgThe artwork, "Two Tahitian Women," shows two women with breasts exposed. The attacker cited the nudity as her reason for going unhinged and said the painting was "very homosexual."

According to court papers, the woman told the arresting officer, "I feel that Gauguin is evil. He has nudity, and it is bad for the children. He had two women in the painting, and it's very homosexual." She also added, "I am from the American CIA, and I have a radio in my head. I am going to kill you."

It's easy to chalk this up as a mentally disturbed woman having a delusional episode in public, but the heart of this really goes deeper than that. After all, her reaction might have been a little more severe than most, but America's puritanical need to censor all nudity and to tie it up in sexual acts is hardly just the purvey of the mentally ill; it's a large part of our culture thanks to religious indoctrination at all levels of our society.

While Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak makes a good attempt at coupling America's fear of nudity with the attack, she doesn't go quite far enough.

"The nudity must've bothered her," said a frustrated Igal Maoz, a New York artist who'd travelled to D.C. just for the Gauguin exhibit and was crestfallen when he learned that the painting had been removed for inspection after the attack.

"There are other paintings with even more nudity!" another visitor pointed out to me, and we walked over to another work, "Te Pape Nave" ("Delectable Waters") and counted five bare breasts, not just the three that allegedly so unnerved Burns.

It's not the first time someone has come undone over the sight of human mammaries -- metal, oil or flesh -- in the nation's capital. Former attorney general John Ashcroft famously ordered drapes to shield the bare chest of an aluminum Lady Justice statue in the Department of Justice.

More recently, the guards at the Hirshhorn Museum were flustered by a woman who was breast-feeding her infant on an indoor bench.

Throughout any art museum, it's difficult to avoid the naked human form.

If you read Dvorak's article, she's trying to link the attack with unneeded extra security at the museum, but I think she really misses the larger point. Instead of worrying about whether or not we'll end up encasing famous art works in glass to protect them (this painting was surrounded by a clear case already) or there will be extra scanners at the entrance, why not dig deeper into why the woman felt the need to attack an 80 million dollar painting? Why not talk about why Ashcroft's prudishness or the guard's uncomfortable feelings about the woman breast feeding?

After all, it's hard to avoid "the naked human form" in art, but why then are we so likely to try and stifle and avoid the naked body or to only trivialize it as a sexual form? Why do we automatically assume that nudity equals sex? Combine that with the automatic assumption that every time you have two people of the same gender naked at the same time sex has to be involved and you have a distinctly fucked up society.

I'm not an art major and any deep discussions of artistic expression usually go over my head, but even I know that the human body - with all of it's multiple shades, variations, and sizes - is a stunningly beautiful masterpiece. Perhaps it's time we started celebrating the human form again instead of trying to hide it behind curtains or glass cases.

Because for all of our stone throwing at that mentally disturbed woman, we're all living in glass houses.

(Photo courtesy of the National Museum of Art)

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california panda | April 5, 2011 7:26 PM

Bingo! The celebration of the human form is one way we human beings can honor "our Creator". By covering it up, hiding it, berating those who present it in art, and being ashamed of it we dishonor the "One" who made us in that image. My opinion is that prudishness is totally shame-based and self-destructive. Additionally it's used as a control mechanism by those claiming "religious authority" which is total Bulls**t because if they truly cared about their God they would already know where the human form comes from.

but, but, think of the children.....
ooo, the humanity

This is one sick puppy. Perhaps religious belief should be in the DSM

umm - why is nobody pointing out that these women aren't just topless - it's the lesbian undertone that obviously freaked her out. Even if Gauguin meant the woman on the right of the painting to be gazing longingly at the watermelon, I love the possibility of lesbian intimacy in her gaze. But obviously the painting attacker did not!

I love those paintings. What's the issue, I'm sure the Tahitian women could be gay, the Polynesians had no problem with homosexuality before the Christians barged in and started shoving that homophobia down their throat.

I don't think we can say that nudity isn't sexual, even in art museums. That's a way of intellectualizing a baser human instinct. Like back when I lived in Walla Walla the wine heads from Seattle and Portland would come out in the summer to see the vineyards, stay in the hotels, and drink. Normally we'd call them alcoholics, but since they found a high-brow way of doing it they could pretend they were there for other reasons.

In this case, since most nudes or partial nudes are of women, you have to wonder. Straight male artists just, magically, think that women's bodies are more likely to be art-worthy than male bodies. Nope, nothing to do with sexual attraction there.

On the other hand, I don't see anything wrong with sexual desire in public. But I think a lot of protests about how nudity in art has nothing to do with sexuality is just as sex-phobic as what motivated this woman to grab that painting.

There is also this painting of his. I wonder what she would have said about this. Lesbian dry humping? :)

Who is this woman that thinks she can call women loving women "evil" and complain about a work of art like this. She probably knows nothing about art aside from her Kindergarten finger painting class. Would she have complained if it were a topless women by herself, or with a man?