Why Do People Love to Hate Renoir?
Impressionist master or indulgent misogynist? Why do people either love Renoir or love to hate him?
Late last year, a group calling itself “Renoir Sucks at Painting” protested at both the MFA in Boston and the Met in New York City asking those museums to remove all works by French Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir from their walls. They later drew up a petition asking the White House to have Renoir stripped from the National Gallery in Washington, DC. The group’s founder, Max Geller, claims that a visit to The Barnes Foundation, home to 181 works by Renoir, convinced him that Renoir’s paintings were “empty calorie-laden steaming piles” and inspired him to turn that hate into action. A new film Renoir: Revered and Reviled examines how Renoir still inspires such hatred in some and love in others almost a century after his death by taking a deeper look at that Barnes’ collection Geller loathed. Was Renoir an Impressionist master or an indulgent misogynist? Why do people either love Renoir or love to hate him?
The film’s writer-director Phil Grabsky quickly casts the two sides of the debate, with Washington Post art critic Philip Kennicott arguing for the anti-Renoir prosecution and Barnes curator Martha Lucy leading the defense. Where the “revolted” Kennicott sees “bovine women without a thought in their head,” Lucy sees Renoir (shown above) using “flesh as the site of experimentation” that would inspire later modern artists. What makes Renoir: Revered and Reviled important is how it presents the evidence of the case to you the viewer to decide for yourself. Even if you can’t get to The Barnes Foundation in person, this movie (appearing nationwide on April 21, 2016) brings the Renoir to you.
Why is the Barnes (shown above) the perfect place to debate Renoir? First of all, it holds the largest collection of Renoir’s work in the world outside of France. Secondly, its founder, Dr. Albert C. Barnes, passionately collected Renoir’s work despite not liking Impressionism in general. In fact, Renoir’s late period work, after his break with Impressionism, comprises almost all of Barnes’ collection of the artist, so you can judge Renoir fairly regardless of your feelings, good or bad, about Impressionism. Finally, if you’re going to tangle with a controversy, there’s no more controversial educational foundation in America than the Barnes, whose move from its original location in 2012 was called everything from “disastrous” to a simple “copy and paste job” from one place to another, reproducing the original galleries and original intent exactly.
Barnes and Renoir were a match made in art history heaven. Just as Renoir moved away from conventional Impressionism towards something different, Barnes (shown above) burst onto the scene looking to build an art collection and found an educational institution equally different. Grabsky tells the life stories of Barnes and Renoir together to show this kinship and symbiotic relationship. Just as Barnes wanted to establish an educational institution founded on the philosophy that Old and New Masters belonged together and should be hung in “ensembles” emphasizing connections and relationships, Renoir—the last of the Old and first of the New Masters—began painting in a way perfectly suited to Barnes’ mission. Beginning with a young Renoir lunching in the Louvre to study Corot, Delacroix, and others, the film ends with an elder Renoir giving advice to Matisse and influencing Picasso. If you hate Renoir but love Matisse and Picasso (two other stars of the Barnes collection), this film will make you look again, and again.
Renoir: Revered and Reviled most of all makes you want to look closer. Glance quickly at the very late Renoir Nude in a Landscape (Nu dans un paysage) (shown above) and you see one of Kennicott’s “bovine women” lumbering through a blurry background. Look closer (and listen to Lucy explain) and you recognize Renoir distorting and experimenting with ways of representing the human form that we expect and accept more from Picasso than from his predecessors. Look closer at the background and you see Renoir attempting decorative effects that Kennicott would call cheap, but that Matisse would be praised for. Where some see a nefarious objectification of women in Renoir’s work, others see simply an artist interested in the potential of painting over questions of content. In other words, the models are meant to be an object in the same way Cézanne objectified mountains or fruit or Monet objectified water lilies. If you revile Renoir for his choice of subject, you might want to reconsider.
Whereas the deceptive simplicity of late Renoir often leads to misunderstanding, the deceptive simplicity of Renoir: Revered and Reviled leads to greater understanding not only of the artist, but also of the love-hate debate. Just as the move of the Barnes in 2012 led to greater access for the public, this film will lead to greater access (and, hopefully, greater appreciation) for the Barnes and Renoir. Writer-director Phil Grabsky tells a clear, compelling story, but also knows when to step back and let the pictures do the talking. By the end, Renoir: Revered and Reviled reframes the Renoir debate and presents a convincing case against the haters. I only hope someone sends Max Geller a ticket.
A large new study uses an online game to inoculate people against fake news.
- Researchers from the University of Cambridge use an online game to inoculate people against fake news.
- The study sample included 15,000 players.
- The scientists hope to use such tactics to protect whole societies against disinformation.
Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.
- Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
- They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
- The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.
The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?
But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.
What's dead may never die, it seems
The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.
BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.
The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.
As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.
The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.
"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.
An ethical gray matter
Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.
The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.
Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.
Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?
"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."
One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.
The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.
"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.
It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.
Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?
The dilemma is unprecedented.
Setting new boundaries
Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."
She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.
Many governments do not report, or misreport, the numbers of refugees who enter their country.
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