This week’s Modern Art Notes Podcast features Elizabeth C. Childs. Her new book “Vanishing Paradise: Art and Exoticism in Colonial Tahiti” examines why artists such as Paul Gauguin traveled to Tahiti in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and what they found there.
Her story focuses on how the experiences of artists and writers in Tahiti was intensely impacted by previous colonial encounters, by colonialist literature and by islanders long-familiar with Europeans. No dry academic read, “Vanishing Paradise” tells a brisk, occasionally racy, compelling story about the Tahiti that Gauguin, American artist John La Farge and New England polymath Henry Adams actually experienced rather than the Tahiti that Gauguin in particular presented in his paintings and writings.
Childs is the department chair of the art history department at Washington University in St. Louis. She has previously written about Gauguin’s writings about Tahiti, Honore Daumier and the way late 19thC artists used cameras.
Among the topics we discuss are:
- The first European contacts with Tahiti in 1768 and 1769, and how they impacted Gauguin;
- How colonialist writers ’set up’ the island for Gauguin and others, helping to form their ideas of what they would (and did) find there;
- How Salon painters did the same, as early as the 1840s; and
- How photography was a key source for Gauguin and other artists who visited Tahiti.
On the second segment, Rimas Simaitis explains his ongoing residency at Indy Island, the Andrea Zittel installation at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Simaitis is a Los Angeles-based artist whose work has examined radio transmission and its impact on culture. Check out his Indy Island project at this pretty darn cool project blog.
The Modern Art Notes Podcast is an independent production of Modern Art Notes Media. The program is edited by Wilson Butterworth. The MAN Podcast is released under this Creative Commons license. Please click through to the jump for images of art discussed on this week’s show.
The Tahiti Cabinet (Otaheitisches Kabinett) at the Schloss Pfaueninsel.
Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1863. Collection of the Musee d’Orsay, Paris.
Paul Gauguin, Mysterious Waters (Pape Moe), 1893.
John La Farge, After the Bath, South Seas, Tahiti, ca. 1895-1908. Photograph dates to before its restoration after 1929. Photograph in the collection of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.