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 Paul Gauguin   Idol with a Shell  1892-93 Musée d’Orsay
Paul Gauguin
Idol with a Shell
1892-93
Musée d’Orsay
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SOKARI DOUGLAS CAMP
TOUGH AS STEEL

by Donald Kuspit


When Gauguin celebrated so-called "primitive" sculpture as a welcome relief from "refined" Western art, he not only announced a new esthetic but a new ideology, both somewhat utopian and therapeutic. Its "savagery" and "barbarism" were an elixir of personal as well as artistic "rejuvenation" (his words). From the moment when Western society industrialized, sensitive, touchy types rebelled against it. Gauguin was one, underneath his tough-guy veneer, and so were the many artists who followed in his wake, sharing his belief in the "redemptive" power of the primitive, be it the "primitivism" of abstraction, expressionism, or surrealism, all of which depend on a "primitive" look ultimately inspired by the "primitive" unconscious.

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