Au contraire, Renoir

In the big scheme of things, a debate over whether Renoir was any good isn’t any different than a sportsradio talk show brawl over whether Pete Rose should be in the baseball Hall of Fame, but in the world of fine art, god help you if you question the wisdom of art historians and critics.

Anything that disturbs the way things are — a female baseball announcer for example — can trigger the online outrage machine.

Max Geller, the guy who organized the fairly funny protest against Renoir at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts this week, is finding that out.

“It’s not a misunderstanding of the ethos of Impressionism,” Geller told NPR, when it called to find out why he questioned the artistic judgment of the museum and all who’ve gone before. “I get that it’s not representative, but if you look at it you get that it is a beautiful impression of the information that the artist is translating. [Renoir’s] is a very bleak, nightmarish one filled with cadavers, pallid skin and chauvinism.”

But Geller is getting plenty of pushback for daring to question the norm.

“Pierre-Auguste Renoir was not, as they say, ‘a very nice person.’ He was an anti-Semite who, at the height of the Dreyfus Affair, renounced his Jewish patrons — the very families who had helped lift him out of crushing poverty,” Sebastian Smee, the Boston Globe‘s art critic, writes today.

He called Geller’s protest “sophomoric.”

“The ‘protest’ was not so much a protest as a coordinated cry for attention,” he wrote. “Welcome (if you’ve been away) to our new social media ecosystem, which magnifies effects without causes, encouraging the hyper-dramatization of the pettiest, most fleeting notions and a psychological enslavement to clicks, likes, and catty comment threads.”

It’s hard to tell which is the performance art in the “controversy.” A protest against Renoir, or the high-falutin’ outrage against the protest in which Geller took a typical day on social media and created a physical performance out of it.

Now that’s artistic genius!