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Paul Gauguin’s “Two Tahitian Women” (1899) (image via

Sometimes art criticism gets physical. According to reports from the Washington Post, a woman attempted to grab Gauguin’s “Two Tahitian Women” (1899) painting off the wall of DC’s National Gallery, screaming “this is evil” and pounding at the painting’s plastic covering with her fists. Talk about seeing red.

As soon as the woman attacked the painting, a simple canvas featuring two strikingly composed, semi-topless Tahitian ladies, a fellow museum goer tackled and restrained her. This hero has been described as a “social worker from the Bronx,” but we would refer to him as an “art ninja.” We’re also guessing that the moves the tackler used were somewhat similar to Gauguin’s famous image of Jacob wrestling with the angel.

The museum’s federal protection ser­vices officers charged the attacker with destruction of property and attempted theft, says National Gallery spokeswoman Deborah Ziska. It’s not clear what the woman in question (who remains unidentified) found so “evil” about Gauguin’s painting (seen at top right), though I’m guessing it’s not the artist’s possessive male gaze and questionable social practices when living amongst Tahitians.

The painting is part of a 120-piece Gauguin exhibit that opened at the National Gallery in late February, titled Gauguin: Maker of Myth. The exhibition is to run through June 5, barring any further interruptions.

UPDATE: Crazy lady, who has been identified as Susan Burns by the Daily Mail and looks sort of like a pioneer woman, proves herself very crazy indeed with her statement to the police, quoted below. Apparently Burns believes the painting is “homosexual” (hmm…) and is also a CIA operative with a radio in her head. Is this actually a secret CIA Republican plot!? Spoiler alert: it’s not.

I feel that Gaugin is evil. He has nudity and is bad for the children. He has two women in the painting and it’s very homosexual. I was trying to remove it. I think it should be burned. I am from the American CIA and I have a radio in my head. I am going to kill you.

Photo of Susan Burns (image via


  • See a photo of the empty spot where the painting would be hanging at the Washington Post.

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Kyle Chayka

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly,...

13 replies on “Crazy Lady Attacks Topless Gauguin [UPDATE]”

  1. This is too funny. “though I’m guessing it’s not the artist’s possessive male gaze and questionable social practices when living amongst Tahitians.” Yea, right…(eyeroll)…ha, ha, ha, ha! Good for the ‘crazy lady’.

  2. and how long before someone from the “homosexuals actually are evil” camp defends this woman?

  3. The headline is offensive, so please change it. She is not just some crazy lady and you’re being cruel and dismissive of someone who’s in urgent need of some proper care. She’s a human being. A living being who is suffering and that is all. Thank you.


  4. kudos to the crazy lady for actually getting something right: i was definitely imagining these two going at it when i jerked off to this painting when i was 12. whether that makes it evil or awesome is clearly up for debate

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