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Protestors outside the MFA Boston on Monday (all photos courtesy Max Geller)

Another day, another protest at a museum. Not against labor conditions, the treatment of museum staff, or kimonos, however, but this time against Pierre-Auguste Renoir, the over-4,000 paintings the French painter executed over his lifetime, and their prominence in museums around the world.

Yesterday, as the Boston Globe reported, a small group of protestors congregated outside the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston armed with cheese pizza and signs that read, “Renoir Sucks at Painting,” “ReNOir,” and “God Hates Renoir.” The rally was organized by Max Geller, a Brooklyn resident who created the Instagram account @Renoir_sucks_at_painting, on which he posts paintings captioned with why he thinks the painter, well, sucks. The group is calling for the institution to remove its Renoirs from its walls — six are currently on view — and replace them with artists who don’t have “treacly oeuvres,” as Geller, who had traveled to Boston for the event, put it.

A protestor with a “God Hates Renoir” sign (click to enlarge)

“We take a pretty agnostic approach to other art. But in the MFA, for example, every single painting is really beautiful except the Renoirs,” Geller told Hyperallergic when reached by phone. “There is a sort of universal saccharine, diabetic quality to all of Renoir’s works that you don’t see in other painters, especially other painters whom people regard as masters.”

Geller takes offense particularly with what he describes as “eyeballs that look like they were colored in with sharpies” and “cut-and-paste, lasso tool-backgrounds of rotting vegetation.” On the Instagram account, he’s blasted works from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Reclining Nude” (1883) to a rendering of a cat.

The Boston protestors also accused the MFA (along with other Renoir-displaying museums) of “aesthetic terrorism,” which Geller defines as “acts that harm the collective cultural wealth of everybody.”

“I think Renoir’s treacle has actual pernicious effects on society,” he explained. “I think you can draw a straight line from Renoir and the exaltation of Renoir by fine art museums to things like movie sequels and Thomas Kinkade.”

The members of the Renoir Sucks at Painting movement believe the MFA Boston is especially guilty of using its limited real estate on Renoir’s works when it possesses greater masterpieces that are kept hidden from the public in storage. Geller would ideally like to see the spaces occupied by works by “people who aren’t dead white men.”

Yesterday’s protest drew laughs from passersby, some of whom expressed solidarity with the movement — which has actually received snarky comments from Renoir’s great-granddaughter herself; for its part, the MFA Boston ignored the entire thing, likely occupied with much bigger and more important things, like preparing for its forthcoming Vermeer and Rembrandt exhibition.

“By the way, neither of those dudes suck at painting,” Geller noted.

The Renoir Sucks at Painting movement isn’t planning another protest at the MFA, but it will continue advocating its bold cause, which has been taking up by individuals in Philadelphia, Mississippi, and even Spain. Renoir-lovers could perhaps fight back with forcefully induced morphine injections.

Protestors outside the MFA Boston on Monday

Protestors outside the MFA Boston on Monday

A protest isn’t real without pizza

A young protestor getting indoctrinated

A protestor outside the MFA Boston on Monday

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Claire Voon

Claire Voon is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Singapore, she grew up near Washington, D.C. and is now based in Chicago. Her work has also appeared in New York Magazine, VICE,...

48 replies on “Boston’s #RenoirSucksAtPainting Protesters Say Exhibiting the Impressionist Is “Aesthetic Terrorism””

  1. Renoir is not my fave but these people need to find something more meaningful to do with their life. This is like anyone protesting an artist who they don’t find aesthetically pleasing- it doesn’t mean someone else doesn’t get something from that work. Maybe they should go to their studios if they have one and try to paint better than Renoir instead of wasting their time. However, the Thomas Kinkade bit was funny.

      1. Late work notwithstanding, give the guy (Renoir) a break. After all, he got his start painting commercial pottery–think Quimper on steroids!!

  2. I’m reading “Sacre Bleu” by Christopher Moore right now, making this that much more humorous.

  3. “I don’t like it, its ugly to me, so you should take it down!”

    Idiots. .. or was this some lame SMFA project?

    1. They’re “satirizing” *protest* though, diminishing it as a form of resistance.

      They’re also veiling aesthetic elitism as a noble call for lesser-known, minority artists.

      Brooklyn hipsters: exponentially losing the plot for over 20 years.

        1. “The rally was organized by Max Geller, a Brooklyn resident who created the Instagram account @Renoir_sucks_at_painting, on which he posts paintings captioned with why he thinks the painter, well, sucks.”

          1. I smell ‘attempt to self promote and go viral’ before I smell ‘art criticism’ or even ‘hipster’. So maybe not satire but cynicism.

  4. I think these people’s faces are “aesthetic terrorism”, they should all wear paper bags over them.

  5. Just remember, these are someone’s opinion. You may like, or you may dislike …. your choice. To discredit the work of others, I find repulsive.

    1. totally agree. As my mother used to lecture “you don’t build yourself up by tearing others down…”

  6. I like humor. This protest pleases me. I hope the media falls in love with these guys the way it fell in love with the Westboro Baptist Church. These signs are better!

  7. I’m an art history grad student and I (not so) secretly hate (most) Renoir paintings. I’ve called many of his works “trite bullsh*tting” and there’s satisfaction in knowing others feel the same. There are major discrepancies between the quality of his different works, and a lot of his inferior paintings ARE taking up valuable real-estate space in museums. And this is largely because Renoir is a name brand/ high price tag painter that the general public can identify. Did he create landmark works? Yes. Were all his paintings inspired? Not really.

    He churned out painting after painting and pandered to what the public wanted at many points in his career (paintings along the lines of Jeunes filles au piano from 1892) in order to have a good public image and to make a comfortable living. There’s no harm in that, but there shouldn’t be an obligation to display the paintings within his body of work that are uninspiring at best…And people shouldn’t have to pretend that lackluster paintings are admirable in fear of persecution by people who blindly think “Renoir=Good painter”…..Especially when artists like Berthe Morisot (a fellow lady impressionist who displays startling psychology in her compositions) aren’t as well known to the general museum-going public and deserve more focus. I think these people are using shock value to get attention, but they have a valid point at the heart of this…. Even if it is some kind of satirical protest.

  8. This has something to do with art markets and aesthetics, yes?
    I was in major museums twice in the last three weeks. The first visit was with my students at the San Diego Museum of Art, which has a large and admirable collection – a kind of mini-Prado. Some of my students were drooling over one of the late Renoir paintings, doe-eyed and distorted figures…I had to pull them away telling them that Renoir was not the best example of early Modernism. Then I was at the National Gallery in DC a week later, eying another Renoir in my peripheral vision. It is valuable real-estate and there there are more deserving artists. And yes, why not some women? Renoir’s paintings straddle uncertainty and indecisiveness. They are reflective that way – they feel over done and/or incomplete. Clearly, the acquisition of these works was serving the desires, and saturating a market of another era that is not meaningful now or is it? The museums should sell their Renoir’s and get something else with the profit. They better do it fast before it is all devalued. But it will not be devalued because attention, bad or good, is usually good for markets. I predict that the Renoir’s will survive.

    1. I am a woman too and I think he has some of the women down pat especially for their doting mothers coaching them on husband hunting or something in there that is different to your usual young teen paintings. He is quite dark including the bluish blacks he uses who was he mixing with???

  9. Hah I wrote an essay on Renoir he can be quite creepy look at the people in them they all have an agenda! everybody looks dishonest as if they are about to sell their souls unsure if that issue is good observation or creepy art. He is sacharine due to the fact he painted porcelain before then again there are good porcelain painters!

  10. He is more complex than first viwing or what majority see should not be telling you this everybody uses my visual knowledge for free as they forget to look!

  11. Yes some later work is not very exciting . But let’s not forget; Dance at the Moulin de la Galette, Luncheon of the Boating Party, La Grenouillere, Sailboats at Argenteuil, et al. Innovative and creative works that moved modernism along.

  12. I am a painter and no fan of Renoir to be sure. As far as I’m concerned his paintings are poorly crafted, boring, and completely uninteresting. That said, I think this protest is shallow and insulting. It uses the form of museum protest against itself. The protests at the DIA and the Rose Museum over the past few years were legitimate acts of civil disobedience intended to draw attention to real abuses of power and the inability of the polity to address important social ills.

    This protest on the other hand reeks of privilege operating above the fray of meaningful cultural and political discourse.

    Ironic form adopted by Geller and the others is a thin attempt to simulate gravity by assuming an antagonistic position against an institution that has real power, but showing Renoirs is no crime worthy of protests when pensioners are not getting their checks (Detroit), museums are being closed (Illinois) and support for museums and the arts in general is waning. The term “Aesthetic Terrorism” is a gross insult levied by privileged Americans in a world where our privilege is too often taken for granted from within and resented from without. Its little wonder that the world hates us when real protest for real rights and values can be devalued like this. #Tahrir Square.

    Soren Kierkegaard once warned against relying on irony as a seducer. Irony for irony’s sake may be fun but it goes no where. Kierkegaard also recognized that irony could be trusted as a guide when authoritative structures and institutions needed a good prodding. Knowing the history of art from the past century and celebrating the sharpness of the ironic teeth of people like DuChamp, Johns, Haacke, Piper, Shonibare and others is not enough. The protest at the MFA insults this tradition and shows the protestors to be privileged and shallow.

    1. agreed. well said Matthew. while bringing a smile, on the whole a relatively poorly (perhaps unconsciously) crafted attempt at public visibility – if one were residing on the far-left conspiratorial mindset one could see this as a thinly veiled attempt at bringing attention to the MFA’s new exhibit…what seems to be lacking is an appreciation for his position in art history, regardless if he executed every painting to today’s satisfaction or not. I liked an above comment in particular – let’s get over ourselves and our prideful judgments and get to work in the studio, leave the criticism to those who don’t practice!

  13. What I object to here is the use of the word “diabetic” as a term of abuse. What exactly does this guy mean? Does he have any idea what it means to be diabetic, or of the medical realities of the disease? Is he talking about Type 2 or the much rarer and more serious Type 1? Is he even aware that not all diabetics are overweight, flabby, indolent, Renoiresque drones–that many of us are fit, active, highly educated, motivated human beings who don’t like being used as whipping posts by glib and ignorant smartasses? BTW, I don’t like a lot of Renoir either, but Picasso admired him greatly. If he saw value in his work, we should all look a little more carefully before we condemn his entire oeuvre out of hand.

  14. My first reaction was–OMG, this is totes retarded (the dumb harmless vernacular term fits perfectly with its cruelly stupid vernacular sibling). But now I am a fan: this is so charmingly irreverent!

  15. Renoir isn’t my cup of tea neither but I wouldn’t try to stop people from seeing it. It’s also kinda late for that. Now, the abominations that pass for art in too many galleries, those merit protesting!

  16. This is so funny. I’m not crazy about his paintings of people but his landscapes are better. He had terrible rheumatoid arthritis so I find it amazing that he painted 4000 paintings! Good on him for being so persistent and dogged. I wish some other artists like Seurat had much longer to create than his short 26 years to paint.

  17. Ok will expand on what I said earlier his approach might be wishy washy tbut the people in his paintings are far meaner when you look closely. In that famous restaurant scene not one person looks at the other rather everybody in the picture is making a deal with somebody beyond with whom they are talking. Also if you look closely at the garb the people are wearing they are in fact quite boemian and working class certainly not top bracket. I have no issues with busty. I am busty. The bruises are shadows duh! I think he can be almost scary and his works are quite edgy there is more to a Renoir than meets the eye. The fluffier style he uses is still complex and is because he used to paint porcelain. I am sure most of the people he painted were not very proper in his time which is refreshing but everybody just sees the prettiness without looking closely at what he is actually talking about!

  18. this is funny & renoir is way too “tiptoe-through-the-tulips” for us – would love to see massive protests against all lousy artists – warhol (all the pops, for that matter, they ruined art), picasso (thief, and not a very good one), almost all performance art, bruce nauman (is anyone more sophomoric), the list goes on…. but really, we should take up arms against the elite selectors who decide which “artists” get fame

    1. Hmm I actually think the artists you mention would be quite familiar with Renoir’s characters aaarrrgh!

  19. Must be nice to have enough spare time to travel to Boston and fake protest a painter with ironic smarmy self-satisfied crap. This is one of the most embarrassing examples of white privileged hipsters who have nothing better to do with their time I’ve ever seen.

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