A strange tale of grass roots art criticism has unfolded in Boston this week.
An Instagram account started by one Max Gellar, entitled Renoir Sucks at Painting, was taken onto the streets of Boston. Protestors (reportedly, about six of them) stood outside Boston's Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) carrying placards proclaiming that 'God Hates Renoir', 'Renoir Sucks', and the snappy 'ReNOir'. Their demand: MFA should take down its Renoirs, replacing them with other works kept in its storage vaults.
|Photo: Lane Turmer /AP|
'Why do so many people think he’s good?' the Guardian reports Gellar as asking. 'Have you looked at his paintings?' They are, according to him, 'empty calorie-laden steaming piles', the decision to hang which in public galleries 'represents an act of aesthetic terrorism'.
It is not clear how serious the protest is. The Huffington Post reports Gellar as saying it is 'meant to be taken more ironically than literally', but Gellar's more genuine point appears to be the question of who is entitled to decide what deserves space in national galleries. 'Curators,' he is reported to have said, 'lack the courage to say, ‘Hey, wait, everybody’s been wrong this whole time.’ They’re not looking at the paintings.'
Either way the story is reminiscent of another, more famous instance of an art critic attacking a painter's work: Whistler v Ruskin, the 1878 libel case in which J M Whistler sued the famous critic John Ruskin over his published letter commenting on some of Whistler's paintings, in particular the impressionistic Nocturne in Black and Gold: the Falling Rocket. Ruskin, in a pithy comment worthy of Gellar, wrote that Whistler's work was like 'flinging a pot of paint in the public's face', enraging Whistler until he finally took the matter to the courts - rather to the amusement of the public, which was impressed neither by Ruskin's over-personal critique nor Whistler's arguably over-sensitive reaction.
|J M Whistler|
Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket,
The Detroit Institute of Arts
Luckily for Gellar, Renoir, who died in 1919, is not around to follow Whistler's lead and sue - it is a general principle that the dead cannot be defamed. But even if he were alive he might be put off by the outcome of that historic trial. The painter won, but instead of the £1000 he had claimed, poor Whistler was given just one farthing in nominal damages, leaving him in heavy debt due to paying his own costs.
Meanwhile, the MFA shows no signs of bowing to public demand, and Renoir's works remain on view to offend or delight, as the case may be.