PRINCETON, NJ.- The Princeton University Art Museum
will launch its fall 2010 season with an exhibition it is originating, Gauguin's Paradise Remembered: The Noa Noa Prints (September 25, 2010January 2, 2011), the first comprehensive look at this pivotal woodcut series.
Gauguin's Paradise Remembered posits a new way of understanding a key body of work within the artist's career, and by extension a new way of understanding this vital post-Impressionist artist. The exhibition presents 32 works that concentrate on the pivotal series of 10 revolutionary woodcuts produced by Paul Gauguin (18481903) in Paris during the winter and spring of 1894, following his first voyage to Tahiti, where he hoped to live simply and draw inspiration from what he saw as the island's exotic native culture. Although the artist was disappointed by the rapidly Westernizing community he encountered, his works from this period nonetheless celebrate the myth of an untainted Polynesian idyll. Gauguin had originally intended his woodcuts to be illustrations for a manuscript he had written in the form of a largely fictionalized journal entitled Noa Noa (Fragrant Scent). Based on his idealized experiences in the South Seas, the book traced his self-styled transformation from a civilized European into one deeply immersed in the ancient spiritual life of Oceania. Self-consciously primitive in style, printed and colored by hand, Gauguin's Noa Noa woodcuts crystallize important themes and compositions from his Tahitian works, enjoying a widespread notoriety in Gauguin's lifetime and surviving today as both his printmaking masterpiece and as one of the most innovative print series produced in the 19th century.
In Gauguin's time, the Noa Noa woodcuts were celebrated as a true combination of printmaking, drawing and sculpture. Gauguin's Paradise Remembered explores the full range of inventive techniques of these prints through a selection of works from a number of prestigious American museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Jointly organized by Calvin Brown, associate curator of prints and drawings at the Princeton University Art Museum, and Alastair Wright, university lecturer in the history of art at St. John's College, Oxford, the exhibition was inspired by the Art Museum's recent purchase of an early proof of L'Univers est créé (The Universe Is Created), one of the most enigmatic of the Noa Noa woodcuts. Central to the exhibition are an investigation of Gauguin's artistic process, a rare presentation of all 10 Noa Noa woodcuts, as printed and hand colored by Gauguin, and a broader contextualization of Gauguin's work that reveals how the artist's experimental printmaking became central to his unique artistic vision. Gauguin's Paradise Remembered addresses both the artist's representation of Tahiti in the woodcut medium and the impact these evocative works had on his artistic practice, to illustrate how the woodcut form offered Gauguin the ideal medium to depict a paradise whose real attraction lay in its remaining always unattainable, never quite within reach.