Open now at the Gedenspire II Gallery, curated by Walter Gedenspire, is Orientalism. The title and focus of the exhibition – an examination of patronising representations of the Middle East in art – are taken from Edward W. Said’s 1978 book of the same name.
Displayed across the gallery’s two floors are over 60 images, together with signage bearing a wealth of information on the subject. The lower floor primarily focuses on paintings by 19th century French artists – Pierre Renoir, Eugène Delacroix, Jean Ingres, Jean-Léon Gérôme and Henri Matisse (the later spilling over into the 20th century). These are supported by other western views of the Middle East: a poster from the 1966 film Khartoum, a post of Rudolph Valentino in Arab-style garb, cover art for an edition of A.E.W Mason’s The Four Feathers, and two paintings by Pablo Picasso.
The selected art very much points to the habit of painters in the 19th century – some of whom never travelled to the Middle East – romanticised the western view of Arabia – to inject a strong, almost patronising, western fantasy view of the East. Even among those who did make the journey eastwards, be it to Arabic states or places like Algeria, their work was heavily influenced by the Romantic movement, which reached its peak alongside the rise of French Orientalism, and western erotic leanings. Renoir went so far as to be outright dismissive of the “genuine article” he encountered during his travels.
The selected paintings are reflective of all of this, and the information boards expand on the art and the artists in an informative, easily digestible narrative. Meanwhile, on the upper floor is a much broader display, covering cities / architecture, the influence of oriental clothing on western high fashion, and the more romantic views of the “oriental landscape”. Occupying one end of this floor is a small display of art by Osman Hamdi Bey, an Ottoman administrator who became enamoured of French Orientalism to the point of studying under two of the foremost exponents of the form, Jean-Leon Gerome and Gustave Boulanger.
For those who enjoy art and / or history, Orientalism is an interesting exhibition, nicely informative without being overbearing in the amount of information on offer. The gallery is nicely decorated in a style suggestive of Moorish interior styling, and for those who feel in the mood, a couple of “Arabic” costumes (female and male) are on sale in the gallery foyer at L$100 each.
- Gedenspire II Gallery (Paris Eiffel, rated Moderate)