Jori Finkel has a good essay in the Los Angeles Times aimed at cutting off criticism of the Getty’s Gerome show before it even starts. The issue is Gerome’s role in Orientalism, the European painting movement that has been associated with imperialism for a generation of scholars. Interestingly, the residents of the countries that were once occupied could care little about the cultural politics of Orientalism. Collectors in those regions just want to buy pictures that depict famous landmarks in their hometowns:
Scott Allan and Mary Morton, who curated the Getty’s version of the show, call it the first major survey of Gérôme’s work in over 30 years. The last was organized in the early 1970s by Gerald Ackerman, whom they credit with nearly single-handedly keeping Gérôme scholarship alive in the interim.
Both curators admit that that their initial conversations about bringing the show to the Getty raised eyebrows of colleagues and superiors. “For many scholars Gérôme represented all that was abhorrent and insidious about Orientalism,” says Allan. “And it’s all the more insidious because he was so talented a craftsman, so meticulous, not just recycling the stereotypes of other painters.”
“His images are so powerful they slip into your memory. What people who hate him really hate about him is the way his images stick in the imagination,” says Morton.
To encourage scholarship in the field, Morton and Allan commissioned a number of academic essays under the title “Reconsidering Gérôme,” a book out this month.
Beyond the Surfaces of a Glittering Imperialist (Los Angeles Times)