Hollywood's Keanu Reeves talks Gauguin at Swiss exhibition
As Switzerland's Fondation Beyeler launches its exhibition of 51 masterpieces by Paul Gauguin, actor Keanu Reeves opens up to dpa about his connection to the French artist.
by Christine Pirovolakis
Riehen, Switzerland (dpa) - Hollywood actor Keanu Reeves has expanded his work over the years as a first-rate musician, director, poet and entrepreneur.
Now, at one of the world's finest museums of modern art, he is helping to shed light on the life of another famous artist: French post-impressionist Paul Gauguin.
Located just outside of Basel, the Fondation Beyeler has brought together 51 rare paintings and sculptures from Gauguin's self-imposed exile to the South Seas.
The exhibition, which opened on Sunday and runs until June 28, includes Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry), an 1892 painting of two Tahitian women that recently made international headlines as the most expensive work of art ever sold, boasting an unconfirmed price tag of nearly 300 million dollars.
Gauguin's Tahitian experiences were the inspiration for his artwork and a book titled Noa Noa, considered both an autobiography and fictional narrative of his quest for paradise.
Reeves was a special guest at the museum's official opening of the exhibition, reading excerpts from Gauguin's book to a sold-out crowd.
Admitting he is no art connoisseur, the actor says he can understand the disappointment and disillusionment Gauguin must have felt with the Westernization and colonization of Tahiti.
With Polynesian roots on his father's side, Reeves says he visited relatives in Oahu, Hawaii as a child and confronted two cultures and two social histories within his own family.
"On the one hand we had the local [Oahu] family tradition, and then on the other hand we had the North American tradition," Reeves told dpa. "I was seeing the ancestry, but in an imperialized manner."
As he read Noa Noa, Reeves says his own experience helped him empathize with the shock Gauguin must have felt when he encountered the missionaries and colonial government infrastructure being imposed on native communities.
"Trying to learn about Gauguin's struggle, what he was searching for or what he was trying to communicate, has been interesting," Reeves said.
Gauguin started his career under the influence of the impressionists in Paris, but he retreated from Western civilization during the late 1880s to seek inspiration in more exotic locations like Panama and Martinique.
The painter made two trips to Tahiti during his lifetime - the first in 1891, after he nearly went bankrupt and became estranged from his wife, and the second in 1895.
Gauguin is believed to have had sexual relations with many of the women depicted in his paintings from Tahiti, including the subject of his work Vairaumati te Ioa, or Her Name is Vairaumati.
Like many other artists, Gauguin's art was not fully appreciated until after his death at the age of 54.
"He was a revolutionary and pioneer for his time in his new concept of image and colour," said Raphael Bouvier, the curator at the Fondation Beyeler.
"He was one of the first modern artists who was interested in non-European art and integrated other culture. That's the reason why he had so much influence on Picasso and cubism, for instance, or with the German expressionists," Bouvier said.
According to Bouvier, one of the main obstacles both he and co-curator Martin Schwander faced was trying to convince public and private collectors from 13 countries to collaborate and loan their works to the exhibition.
"Because there is not a concentration of Gauguins in one place, the work of collecting the masterpieces is complex and ... posed a real challenge," Bouvier said.