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Renoir Sucks at Painting protestors rallied outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art on October 17 (all photos by Max Geller)

The fight against Renoir’s paintings and their established presence in museums is far, far from over. Members of the Renoir Sucks at Painting (RSAP) movement rallied this weekend in New York City, following their recent protest at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston against its display of the Impressionist’s works on the basis of “aesthetic terrorism.” Their target this time: the Metropolitan Museum of Art, whose walls currently display 19 paintings by Renoir — all of which RSAP members consider “indefensible swathes of poorly rendered treacle” and want removed.

On Saturday from noon to 2 pm, over two dozen protestors stood on the front steps of the Met, chanting and waving some of the same signs they held at the MFA Boston, which included “ReNOir” and “God hates Renoir.” Like the MFA Boston, the Met largely ignored the movement, although RSAP founder Max Geller told Hyperallergic that it had “plainclothes museum guards with walkie-talkies in their pockets following us, just watching.” Police also arrived on the scene although they, too, simply observed. Aside from snapping photos, museum visitors mostly sat back as well, many amused once they realized war was actually being waged over aesthetics. Some, as Geller recalled, spoke with the demonstrators, telling them they agreed that the Met exhibits too many Renoirs.

RSAP protestors hold signs outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art (click to enlarge)

“It was an overwhelmingly successful protest,” Geller said. “There were many people I know, but there were also 10 complete strangers who also showed up with their own signs to protest.”

What he had not expected, however, was a counter-protest: a handful of Renoir-lovers met RSAP on the steps, wielding their own signs that read, “You couldn’t do BETTER,” You can take our Renoir when you pry them from our cold dead hands,” and “Je suis Pierre-Auguste.”

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!”

RSAP entered the museum after two hours of demonstrating, whereupon they were tailed by museum security guards Geller described, with heavy emphasis, as “flinty-eyed.

“They made a really strong, silent case for me not doing anything at all,” he said. As he received his ticket for entry, he told the vendor he would not make a donation until the Met addressed “the Renoir situation.”

The Renoirs, to no one’s surprise, still hang on the museum’s walls; RSAP, remaining optimistic, has already found a potential home for them: Massachusett’s Museum of Bad Art, a “community-based, private institution dedicated to the collection, preservation, exhibition, and celebration of bad art in all its forms and in all its glory,” has agreed to shoulder the burden of acquiring some of the works.

The protests, as silly as they are, have nevertheless renewed spirited debate about a long-dead artist, reinvigorating anti-Renoir sentiment that dates to the painter’s own days. As Kriston Capps notes in the Atlantic:

Then and now, critics complain that Renoir was promiscuous with color. That he paid no heed to line and composition. His works were never formal explorations of light and shadow, like Monet’s, or social critiques of the turn-of-the-century era, like Manet’s. One of Impressionism’s fiercest critics, Albert Wolff, a writer for Le Figaro, wrote in 1874 that what Renoir did with paint was unnatural, maybe even unholy. “Try to explain to M Renoir,” he wrote, “that a woman’s torso is not a mass of decomposing flesh with green and purple spots that indicate the state of total putrefaction in a corpse!”

Even New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldahl has weighed in, acknowledging the trolling at play but still taking the time to deliver reasons why Renoir appeals, describing in particular his affinity for “Dance at Bougival” (1883), which is on view at the MFA Boston.

“There’s been a long historical current of Renoir hatred,” Geller said. “But I do think one of the crowning achievements of our movement has been to start a worldwide conversation. This was [in] Le Monde. We started a worldwide conversation about addressing this question: Does Renoir suck at painting?”

Museums probably won’t answer that question with direct action, but RSAP isn’t backing down from its cause. As Geller cautioned: “If you make the decision to put Renoir on view in your fine art museum, you can expect us.”

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Counter-protestors to the RSAP movement

RSAP protestors outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art

RSAP protestors outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art

RSAP protestors outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art

RSAP protestors outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art

RSAP protestors outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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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,...

88 replies on “Protesters Demand Metropolitan Museum Remove 19 Renoir Paintings”

  1. Think already stated this he is pretty underground if you look closely all have an agenda in his works and nobody addresses each other unless for an agreed reason between the players. He is a porcelain style painter nevertheless he does good lights and darks he is much weightier than people suppose quite telling and insightful think said all this before he has not a huge distance from Manet though Manet more stylish more humane.

  2. He is quite dark actually and his players rarely nice people surprises me when people think they are they all scheme!!

  3. Like who cares what they think? They are obvious part of the perpetually offended crowd and with any luck will increase attendance of folks prepared to make up their own minds with and handful of idiots deciding what they can see.

    1. I think these protestors may be lampooning the very idea of protesting any (or many) offenses, while at the same time trying to best the gesture by taking aim at a subtle, fundamental aspect of cultural conditioning. (One of the signs in Boston claimed that there’s a direct line from Renoir to “Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light”…this helped me to see their logic. Plus it calls into question the roles & responsibilities of museums…)

    2. Canuck, whose misogyny is well-known around these parts, needs to read the reply from kls, who is correct.

      1. Typical….can’t make a rational argument so you resort to the typical and unsubstantiated liberal retort…bigot, homophobe, racist or now misogynist. Undoubtedly one of the folks that thought a crucifix in urine was art but then some who are offended have more status than others.

  4. Oh darn it I am stuck in a no mans land where nobody ever thought to question if Renoir matters that hugely in first place and he is a part of Western cultural hisory.

  5. This frivolous protest is both stupid and dangerous in that it can undermine serious and valid ones such as MoMa Employees demonstrating for fair wages and benefits.Tell these idiots to pack up and go home.

          1. 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!” and take em down is an opinion since they are not in fact taking them down.

          2. Well OK then, Nazi it is.
            “You should/could take them down.” would be an opinion.
            Take ’em down! sounds like a Nazi order of the Degenerate Art era.
            I don’t care about Renoir, but even less about frivolous protests.

        1. saying God hates Renoir is insulting to both and offensive and stupid. If they have an important art critic opinion, it doesn’t show in their signs. Jr High Boys Room level: ” Renoir sucks.”

  6. Maybe they should shift their attention to banning Jeff Koons–who out-Renoirs Renoir for bourgeoisie banality–from museums? Worrying about a long dead, white male artist seems utterly futile–even as ironic gesture–when such energy could productively comment on contemporary art’s swooning preference for pretentious foolishness for its own sake. Indeed, maybe that is the point…?

    1. It wouldn’t work as parody. The joke only works because Renoir is long-dead and uncontroversial.

      1. seems like a parody of protesting to me, very bourgeoisie, how droll. lol if it involved getting pies in the face, top hats and burning in (mock?) effigy it’d be something else…

        dunno reads to me more like marketing campaign sponsored by the museum.

        1. It’s more specifically a WBC parody, but with a broad spirit of mockery. It’s not a marketing campaign by the museum, they’ve done this in other places.

    2. RSAP are the contemporary artists and pretentious fools. These miscreants believe their work belongs at the Metropolitan.

  7. Had Renoir died at 40 he would have been remembered as one of the premier Impressionist landscape painters, the equal of Monet. His late works really are quite atrocious, and cast doubt on the overall validity of his oeuvre.

    I’m glad to see artists getting worked up over legitimate aesthetic issues like this one. However, Renoir is just the tip of the iceberg. I was at the MFA a few weeks ago and had the opportunity to view their extensive collection of hideous Arthur Dove paintings. Dove’s work could easily be used for tinder when they light the bonfire of Renoir paintings.

    1. Renoir is one of the greatest colorists of all time. You guys who think he’s not are not able to see color as abstract art, just literal subject matter.

  8. Worth thinking about, and however absurd the protest is, it at least raises consciousness about art, which may be the hidden agenda, if so a noble one.

    A bigger problem as I see it is that with few employment opportunities in a predatory and exclusionary corporate capitalist economy, everybody’s becoming either an artist, an art critic (like these folks – don’t they have other things to do?), or a uber rich art collector (the prices for the “masters” work is the height of absurdity, no?) as a default occupation, meaning, though everyone should express themselves, that since not many have great artistic talent, the value and meaning of art is becoming overcooked and banal.

  9. Really? With manufactured investment grade meta art that has flooded the global market for the past three decades, the Costco like art-fairs, and the often obfuscated practices of auction houses, mega-galleries and museums, they’re protesting Renoir?!!! #freetimetowaste

    1. Because if they protested any of that they wouldn’t be able to parlay it into a career like they are hoping to do with this little inanity.

          1. You seem disoriented about the difference between a fact and an opinion. I think it’s quite funny, and I think you’re pretty whiny.

  10. I can only imagine the kind of presumptuous wine-sucking get-together these folks were attending when they came up with this arrogant self indulgent waste of time. Wanna see work that really sucks? Tuck the sign under your arm, walk three blocks (any direction) and go into the first gallery you come across. You can’t swing a dead hipster in NYC without hitting a crappy painting.

  11. When I was working on my BA for slide identification exams it was said that you could always tell a Renoir because his pieces looked like they belonged on a biscuit tin. I am not sure if that is a point for or against Renoir. But the whole thing makes me smile.

  12. This is incredibly stupid. I suspect its all about a couple/few art students trying desperately to make some sort of name for themselves for something which they can then parlay into a career.

  13. “Still Life with Peaches (1881)” in the Met collection, too? Not so fast, I say. Meanwhile, what about Bougereau, Dalí, and other examples of shallow silliness? Deaccession a few and buy some good work with the profits.

  14. Bill Rabinovitch “Renoir Erotic Fantasy of Crushing Strawberries” 10-15-15 (Upper Detail )

    My Revenge on The Renoir Haters Protest! So silly – but what Fun. I’ve combined several Renoirs, rearranged things completely – changed the story – added Picasso & also me on lower left conducting this whole new type treatment. Vivre Renoir!

    https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10207657691377215&set=a.1764444587801.2100926.1139702889&type=3&theater

  15. seriously, maybe y’all humorless types should start throwing shade on comedians, too, ’cause when has making people laugh ever contributed to the cultural discourse?

  16. I’m glad someone is taking on the media and the Westboro Baptist Church in such a public and healthy protest. I don’t know why anyone thinks the protesters actually hate Renoir. On the other hand, maybe it’s good that those opposed to these “protesters” don’t recognize the genesis of their signage. Since the death of Fred P. the WBC has not been the media force it once was. The cameras could not stay away from a “protester” , even those misguided as the WBC or the “Renoir haters.” The WBC made as much sense as a schizophrenic screaming on a city bus, but “the media” covered them like they were a special committee at the UN trying to solve something important.

    1. Yeah, I’m mystified by the inability of any of these people to get the joke. I think it’s the funniest thing I’ve seen all day.

      1. I am not sure it’s a joke although I see the correlation between the Westboro Baptist Church. It’s certainly bringing attention to the museum. Maybe they think they are dadaists – them and the WBC. There exists a glut of wannabe arts performers in NYC that feel they should be recognized and the next great star. Also, many people did not obsessively follow WBC news or pay any real attention to those miscreants either. There is a fascinating phenomenon where, like a stalker, those most politically correct and so called intellectuals obsessively follow those they passionately oppose and disdain. Meanwhile, most people would not, nor should ever have to know the details or anything about WBC signage.

        1. If you google WBC there are over 1.3 million results. No one has to “obsessively” follow them to get the WBC references in the “anti-Renoir” protesters. The media has followed them around for years and if you’ve ever given any thought to gay rights in the last decade you have come across the WBC and their ridiculous signs.

  17. We have indeed arrived at “Post-post Modernism.” Which is another way of say, “everything old is new again.” Nothing like a little protest, fist fight or riot to warm the heart of a good old modernist. If their intentions are to detract from Renoir then they have failed. But, I think they know that. Would we have even discussed Renoir in Hyperalergic without these threadbare trappings of an “aesthetic protest”? All good toward the fine art of Promotion. By the way…the Museum of Bad Art is a real hoot. I’d love to see an piece on MOBA and their “collection.”

  18. Some Renoirs are good, some not so much. That’s how it goes.

    I think Picasso is overrated. I would like to see the MOMA exchange some for some art by women – which they have too little of (as do most museums).

  19. I understand that this whole protest is being secretly funded by the group “Friends of Degas.”

  20. why aren’t they protesting against paintings that are mere solid colors, or splashes of paints, or those that look like a 3 year old made, or even that invisible art gallery some time ago(or the ones that sprouted after that that i had no idea of), or even literally garbage being passed off as art and sold for millions? the ones that had no aesthetic value whatsoever and you need “emotions” and a third eye to fully appreciate, why aren’t they being protested against?

      1. If someone has to condescendingly explain such an arcane joke, it’s far from funny and it’s convoluted and pretentious.

        1. If you need someone to explain “Renoir was an inside job” to you, you might not be the brightest. This has been flying around Facebook and the general feeling is that it’s hilarious.

  21. By now I’ve long had enough of Monet but the world would not be improved through his absence. Think of it in terms of the classical repertoire in music. Suspect the critic cabal would remove a Russian Romantic or two. Relativistic and anachronistic perspectives across time are unintelligent.

  22. Renoir, for part of his career, used inferior quality oil paints that have discolored over time and we see the ugly, discordant results. Does this sound like an ad for Winsor-Newton or Sennelier?

  23. Well, they got a point if you go by some of the Renoir examples shown. Thy are not his best. But so what? They still have great value. Sometimes poor work shows how the artist progressed or went into decline – they have historical value. Lots of sucky painters in museums collections and Renoir’s best work makes way up for these poor specimens.

    In my area of photography, lots of sucky photogs in museums collections as well. Winogrand comes to mind as an example. OK, he had a handful of nice pix, but that was out of maybe 1.5 million pix in his body of work. Winogrand had lots of crooked, pictures of nothing…but they are idolized as great just because they have his signature. I’d tell the protesters to get on with life and not waste precious time on such crap.

  24. the tentacles of the Renoir conspiracy reach deep into the Art Institute of Chicago…methinks the protesters need to get on a plane: it’s the only hope for humanity

  25. There is a giant Renoir print at my relationship counselor’s office I have been known to attend aaarrgh!

  26. Seriously? In a country where the arts are struggling, where funding is drying up, where it’s becoming harder and harder to work, or even be, an artist and this is what we’re spending our time protesting? Not to get more funding to put the Arts back in schools? To demand better accountability for budgeting and grants given from American’s for the Arts? Without funding art programs we wouldn’t know who Renoir is, or was. This is ridiculous. Go back home Suburbia.

    1. ‘Arts’ aren’t really struggling.
      Historically, including now, the widest gaps between rich and poor have been the most vibrant and explosive for art.
      ‘Art’ is struggling for the middle class on down, but they’re currently struggling by every measure. That’s a separate and MUCH more serious issue.
      But there is more money for art and related resources than ever.
      Just not public money for ordinary people.

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