Renoir Sucks At Painting is the movement that wants the work of the French impressionist artist recognised for what it is – total shit
If you really hate something, you should do something about it. That – at the most basic level – is the ethos of Renoir Sucks At Painting, the protest movement that really really hates Auguste Renoir, the French impressionist artist who perished in 1919.
Despite having a reputation amongst art historians as a fairly bad painter, post-death Renoir still enjoys the luxury of being exhibited in museums and galleries across the world, something that the Renoir Sucks At Paintings protest group finds hard to stomach.
Having previously let their discontent known via an Instagram account, this week the group mobilised their anger into physical action in the form of a picket protest outside the Boston Museum of Fine Arts – they wanted the paintings out of there and "thrown into the street, like the rubbish that they are". We caught up with the movement’s spokesperson Max Geller, who was in LA at the time of our conversation, to get an insight into why Renoir sucks so much and why they feel so strongly about it.
How bad is Renoir? Is he the worst ever and what makes him suck so much?
Max Geller: I think there’s a lot of ways to answer that question. I think he is certainly the most overrated painter East, West, North and South of the River Seine. It’s interesting because a lot of the smarmy art nerds who I interact with like to point out that there’s plenty of scholarship that supports my thesis that Renoir sucks at painting. But he still is in every single museum. I think the way the criteria or how I go about judging whether or not a painting sucks is – wait for it – by looking at it.
When you look at these paintings independent of their gilded frames and their placement of the walls in these rarefied museums, they’re just a bunch of feathery, empty calories. They’re completely un-nourishing. Everyone is entitled to liking whatever they want, but not everyone is entitled to have a thing that they like be considered the best and put in museums. That’s what we put in our museums – the best paintings. Renoir is not the best.
Who is the best?
Max Geller: As the spokesperson for the Renoir Sucks movement, I take a very agnostic approach – it’s not for me to say, it’s for the people to say. We’re democratising museum spaces, not replacing the power structure with a similarly dictatorial nature. It’s not for me to say.
Would you like to see spaces holding Renoir work come with a trigger warning?
Max Geller: I would like to see them thrown out into the street, like the rubbish that they are. Trigger warning: that’s a cute idea but it’s the politics of palliation. It’s not enough to say to everybody:
"Watch out everybody, what you’re about to see is a woman’s head seven times too big for the rest of her body and if she were a real person, would be bedridden because she would not be able to move – her neck would not be able to support this gargantuan head."
That’s not really going to do it for children. Especially children who enter museums thinking they’re about to see the best paintings and see a hideously disfigured portrait. I don’t think a trigger warning is enough to undo the harm it causes.
Since Monday’s protest, do you feel the movement gathering pace?
Max Geller: Well let me put it this way – since Monday’s protest in Boston, the amount of members in the movement has increased by 700 per cent and there’s already been a solidarity action plan for LA tomorrow where activists – people I’ve never met before – are going to go to another museum and demand the removal of Renoir.
How likely do you think you’ll succeed in what you’re going to do?
Max Geller: What I think is really important is the infinitely deep well of energy that the Renoir Sucks At Painting movement feels. We are an inexorable movement for truth and we are doggedly pursuing it. In today’s Telegraph, there is a poll that says, ‘Do you think Renoir is an overrated painter?’ This week we have started an international conversation about whether or not Renoir sucks and last week nobody was talking about it. The progress we made this week cannot be overstated. We have started an international conversation.
I notice that the aesthetic of the protests bear similarity to the Westboro Baptist Church, what’s that about?
Max Geller: Your powers of perception do not let you down. I’m glad you’re getting the nuances of the Westboro Baptist Church because I was talking to a "colleague" of yours who hailed from across the channel and they had no idea what the Westboro Baptist Church was and so they were actually thinking that we were a group of religious zealots. Inherent in our protests is a critique of what I would call "American absolutism", the sort of cocksureness that you see in political debates in my country that are perfectly crystallised by the Westboro Baptist Church. So yes, we were indeed invoking at the Westboro Baptist Church. And it worked.
I hate Monet’s paintings. I think it’s a disgrace that he’s so famous. What do you think about that?
Max Geller: I resent being asked about Monet. I think if you are truly motivated then you should genuinely try to start a grass roots movement against Monet but otherwise don’t try and distract me – my eyes are completely focused on the prize. I think a lot of smarmy art nerds like to point out what the basic ethos of impressionism is – I want to make clear to you that I understand what it is – if you look at an impressionist painting, and execute it well, you can really get a sense of what that moment felt like to the artist, but if you look at Renoir’s impression of a moment you get a very bleak sort of zombie vibe of whack, craven mediocrity – and that’s not a feeling anyone wants to have. That really detracts from the the overall experience of a museum. I would say Renoir truly dilutes the visitor’s experience in the museum and collective cultural wealth.
What else sucks?
Max Geller: There’s a lot of treacle out there – there is a lot of bad art. I think we’re all drowning in a treacly wake of Renoir. We must take a look at the situation and try to make the best of it and we can talk about more pressing social issues but I do believe removing Renoir is just the first step in the long march to our cultural enlightenment. Also, this movement works because Renoir actually does suck at painting.