“Not Another Nickel, Not Another Dime, No More Money For Aesthetic Crimes”

New York’s Finest… (Last one before returning to analyses of how #renoirsucksatpainting.)

A photo posted by Renoir Sucks At Painting (@renoir_sucks_at_painting) on Oct 18, 2015 at 7:48am PDT

On Saturday I went to go see a protest at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was motivated, I think, from a sense of obligation; I had been following an Instagram account called “Renoir Sucks At Painting,” which is exactly what it sounds like, and they were gathering to pressure the Met into removing all their Renoir paintings from the permanent collection. So, first: true lol. If they were just a subway ride away, I thought, shouldn’t I go see it for myself?

As I was walking to the museum I could hear the chanting; I missed the first part, but walked in right as they were finishing with “steaming pile!” so I think I got the message. Later chants included “Not another nickel, not another dime, no more money for aesthetic crimes!” Some protesters had signs that said “Renoir was an inside job” and “God hates Renoir.” When I arrived, the protesters were facing the street, and soon they moved to face the people exiting the museum or taking photos on the steps. A counter-protest (by my count, three people) had their own catchy chant: “You don’t get into a museum by luck, we know Renoir doesn’t suck.”

I sat on the steps with other people taking photos and waited to see what would happen. I did see one man approach Max Geller, the organizer of the event, and he looked quite angry, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying. I wonder if it was this guy mentioned by Hyperallergic:

According to Geller, one man who took severe offense at RSAP’s cause approached demonstrators, shouting at them, “You know who else tries to ban things they don’t like? Nazis! That’s what you are! Nazis!”

I first learned about this vigilante art history justice group two weeks ago, when Jonathan Jones, an art critic for The Guardian, saw this Instagram account and promptly lost his shit:

Renoir does not suck. You just need to look at his painting Dance at the Moulin Galette. See how its sexy crowd of young Parisians are brought alive by dappled sunlight that glints and glances through the trees. How does this fail to be beautiful? The play of light that makes this painting dance is something we recognise and know to be a typical natural effect — but amazingly, no one had ever painted such a broken light before. This quickness of sunshine, this fluency of shadows, had never been acknowledged in art before Renoir came along.

Geller’s claim that Renoir fails to show the “beauty” of nature is astonishingly and crassly wide of the mark. Not only is the art of Renoir beautiful but he, personally and singlehandedly, taught the world to appreciate new dimensions to the beauty of the world we live in. By getting closer to the way we actually see, he showed us jewels that previous generations had never noticed. This can be seen gloriously in his sensual appreciation of a rainy day in the city, The Umbrellas.

Renoir is a rich and imaginative genius. He creates the equivalent of a provocative French novel in his painting La Loge, containing a whole narrative of dangerous liaisons in one glimpse of a couple at the theatre. He similarly encapsulates a whole life of artistic obsession in his portrait of the dealer Vollard caressing a statuette.

Just these few paintings are enough to prove the campaign against Renoir is daft and wrongheaded. It’s good to think about art and healthy to have strong opinions about it. But try looking harder first.

Renoir’s great-great-granddaughter, Genevieve Renoir, commented on one photo, saying that:

“When your great-great-grandfather paints anything worth $78.1M dollars (which is $143.9M in today’s dollars), 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.”

In retaliation, Geller replied:

“YOUR ARMS ARE TOO SHORT TO BOX WITH GOD,” before listing various entities the free market has also judged as worthy. These include “the Prison Industrial Complex; Slavery; Settler Colonialism; The destruction of sea otter habitats,” and “National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (457 Million Box Office!).”

After watching for a while I saw the patterns of the protest: the pro-Renoir group was given their chance to chant from the center of the circle, and then the anti-Renoir group would move back. A few police offers circled around, hands in their pocket, seemingly also just keeping watch. Two girls sitting beside me asked if I would take their picture, and if I knew what the protest was about, in that order. I took the picture and told them it was about getting Renoir out of the museum, and they didn’t ask any follow-up questions.

How sincere was the protest? I genuinely couldn’t tell from watching! My cynical instincts tell me it was mostly a joke, with the punchline being the way we accept without question any old white guy with the backing of prestigious institutions, but the organizers’ commitment in various interviews and in real life goes above and beyond an Instagram-based gag. I have never been less sure about which art troll is art-trolling us harder, and I saw that dumb Banksy documentary in theaters, so that’s really saying something.

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