Metropolitan Museum of Art Is the Next Target of the ‘Renoir Sucks’ Protesters

The movement is an attack on Renoir’s saccharine vision.

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Protesters will soon rally outside New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in the latest action organized by the “Renoir Sucks at Painting” group, which is headed by Max Geller. A sign promoting the action warns, “There are 14 Renoirs on view at the Met. This cannot go unanswered. Saturday, high noon, we march!”

Bearing signs emblazoned with slogans like “God Hates Renoir” and “re-NO-ir,” demonstrators have hit the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and, more recently, the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California. The artist’s great-great-granddaughter hasn’t taken this lying down, striking back at the demonstrators on social media in defense of her famous ancestor. Interestingly, Geller isn’t just an aesthete; he’s also a political organizer who advocates a boycott of Israel, so he brings chops honed in more high-stakes activism to his artistic uprising.

For what might seem like just a lark, an ironic meta-protest, it’s all proven remarkably provocative, and not just among the artist’s heirs. Critics like the Boston Globe’s Pulitzer-winning Sebastian Smee and the New Yorker’s Peter Schjeldahl have weighed in, embarrassingly, calling the protest “sophomoric” and saying that hating Renoir is “just a phase,” respectively.

More to the point, perhaps, Smee also called the movement a cry for social-media attention, and maybe he’s not entirely wrong. But Geller, in response, has astutely pointed out that the Globe heavily promoted its articles on the phenomenon, trying to get some of those sweet, sweet Renoir clicks. (He challenged Smee to a duel to the death on Boston Common to solve the issue.) Also feeding into the protest’s fascination, no doubt, is the contrast between the partly tongue-in-cheek, partly sincere, utterly tiny Renoir Sucks movement and the deadly serious protests over police brutality that have swept the country.

Museums and activism have long been two great tastes that taste great together, as the old Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups ad slogan went. Just in New York in recent months, protesters have hit the Met, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Guggenheim over issues like worker’s rights, healthcare services, and funding from conservative sources.

But at the risk of pointing out the obvious, the beauty of the “Renoir Sucks” protest is the demonstrators’ aesthetic outrage. Their conviction that Renoir was an anti-Semite and a misogynist pretty much takes a back seat; instead, the movement is an attack on Renoir’s saccharine vision.

The protests are so amusing because they bring the same overheated sloganeering that goes into political and social protests and even conspiracy theories to an academic debate over issues like brushwork. For instance, “God Hates Renoir” refers to the inflammatory signs toted by the Westboro Baptist Church, while the sign Geller sent artnet News below, “Renoir Was an Inside Job,” recalls 9/11 Truther-speak.

Even an essay on the Metropolitan’s website concedes that the artist is not universally acclaimed: “Auguste Renoir was a far more complex and thoughtful painter than generally assumed.” The museum didn’t immediately respond with a more spirited defense to artnet News’ emailed requests for comment.

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So, look out, New York museums, because these bi-coastal protests are catching fire, and we know several more of you are holding Renoirs. The haters may soon be knocking on the doors of the Frick Collection, MoMA, and the Guggenheim Museum, too.


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