‘Metamorphoses’ At MoMA Explores Gauguin’s Experimental Works On Paper

Paul Gauguin, “Nave nave fenua (Delightful Land),” 1894, watercolor monotype with hand additions, sheet 1515/16  by 9½ inches. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, bequest of W.G. Russell Allen. Image courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

NEW YORK CITY — “Gauguin: Metamorphoses,” which will be on view at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) March 8–June 8, is the first major monographic exhibition on Paul Gauguin (French, 1848–1903) ever presented at MoMA, and the first major exhibition to focus particularly on the artist’s rare and extraordinary prints and transfer drawings and their relationship to his paintings and his sculptures. Displayed will be approximately 160 works, including some 130 works on paper and a critical selection of some 30 related paintings and sculptures.

Featuring loans from many different collections — national and international, public and private — the exhibition offers an extraordinary opportunity to see these works brought together. Many have rarely, if ever, been shown in the United States. The exhibition is organized by Starr Figura, the Phyllis Ann and Walter Borten associate curator, with Lotte Johnson, curatorial assistant, department of drawings and prints at MoMA.

More than any other major artist of his generation, Paul Gauguin drew inspiration from working across mediums. Though most often celebrated as a pioneer of Modernist painting, at various moments Gauguin was also intensely engaged with woodcarving, ceramics, lithography, woodcut, monotype and transfer drawing — all mediums that ignited his creativity. Gauguin, who had no formal artistic training, led a peripatetic life, settling for extended periods in different regions of the world — including, most famously, Tahiti. His search for a culture unspoiled by European mores and constraints paralleled his eagerness to work with unfamiliar techniques in order to create entirely new types of artworks.

This exhibition focuses on these less well-known but arguably even more innovative aspects of Gauguin’s practice, especially the rare and extraordinary prints he created in several discrete bursts of activity from 1889 until his death in 1903. These remarkable works on paper reflect Gauguin’s experiments with a range of mediums, from radically “primitive” woodcuts to jewel-like watercolor monotypes and large, evocative transfer drawings that rank among the great masterpieces in the history of the graphic arts.

The Museum of Modern Art is at 11 West 53 Street. For information, www.moma.org or 212-708-9400.

Photo: National Gallery of Art

Paul Gauguin, “Nave nave fenua (Delightful Land)” from the suite “Noa Noa (Fragrant Scent),” 1893–94, woodcut, 14 by 8 inches. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., Rosenwald collection.

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