It’s been a lively couple of weeks for art related protest. In Versailles, Anish Kapoor’s sculpture has been the focus of a three-way argument
that takes in neo-Nazi graffiti artists, local councillors and the artist himself. In London, protestors have ‘occupied’ the British Museum and Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall
to call for an end to their relationship with BP. In Moscow, we’ve seen outraged thugs attacking contemporary art
for its supposedly ‘sacrilegious’ message. But the Autumn of Discontent is far from over. Last week, visitors to Boston’s Museum of Fine Art found their path temporarily blocked by a crowd of placard-waving indignados.
These were no ordinary protestors as their complaint was neither moral nor political nor environmental.
Indeed, the only thing that left onlookers in no doubt were the protestors’ artistic prejudices: to wit, a shared loathing for the work of Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919). "GOD HATES RENOIR!" was one of their placards thundered, and "Renoir just sucks
at painting!" It appears the protest was the brainchild of Max Geller, the man behind an Instagram account called@renoir_sucks_at_painting
. A cursory look at the account, which has notched up nearly 4,500 followers and its growing apace, reveals that Geller and his fellow Renoir-haters have put together something resembling a manifesto: ‘After years of silently coping with the irredeemable treacle of Pierre-Auguste Renoir diluting the collection at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, an international grassroots network of cultural justice seekers announce their intention to march on the MFA and picket outside.
It is the position of the Renoir Sucks at Painting movement that the MFA’s decision to hang Renoir paintings, considering the fact the museum has masterpieces by actually talented artist in storage. This
amounts to an act of Aesthetic Terrorism." A
search through the history books reveals that Geller and co are in good company: ‘He has no talent at all, that boy!’, Édouard Manet (1832-1883) allegedly said of Renoir, ‘tell him please to give up painting.’
Welcome (if you’ve been away) to our new social media ecosystem, which magnifies effects without causes, encouraging the hyper-dramatization of the pettiest, most fleeting notions and a psychological enslavement to clicks, likes, and catty comment threads. Istagrammer Genevieve Renoir
, who claims she's a descendant of the artist, was taking to social media to defend her famous ancestor. One piquant response to a post by an Instagrammer with the handle Renoir Sucks at Painting
? “Your mother." She went on, “When your great-great-grandfather paints anything worth $78.1 million, then you can criticize".
In the meantime, it is safe to say that the free market has spoken and Renoir did not suck at painting. There follows a string of emoji, the hashtag #WORTHIT and a link to Wikipedia's list
of most expensive paintings. Indeed, Renoir's auction high stands at $78.1 million, for Au Moulin de la Galette
(1876), which sold at Sotheby's New York in 1990. In today's dollars, as Genevieve Renoir points out, that's $142.4 million, which earns it the 11th spot on that Wikipedia list. Renoir certainly has his defenders, of course. Art collector and museum founder Robert Sterling Clark once wrote
in diary, “I would much rather live with 20 Renoirs than with 20 Rembrandts."
As it turned out, he'd rather live with no fewer than 33 paintings by the artist, since that's the full number he bought. In the mean time, the "GOD HATES RENOIR" people yelled: "Give us work by Paul Gauguin !"