A TASTE of Polynesia at SAM
I know that I’ve said this many times before, but there’s just something about art. Something about the passion, the courage, the drive. Quite often driven by emotion rather than logic, art is the child of a love affair between the hopes and dreams of the artist. Such “love children,” if you will, go out into the world and make the world a better place.
Most recently, I reviewed a play about the painter Mark Rothko, that runs here in Seattle until March 24th, 2011, called Red. Now lets add other colors – papaya-exterior yellow, papaya-interior orange, tropical sunset pinks, and beautifully sun-kissed golden and tan-brown skin. For now it’s time to consider Gauguin and the Polynesia in the 19th and early 20th centuries (as well as the time of an earlier, grander Polynesia).
The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) an the exhibit entitled Gauguin & Polynesia: An Elusive Paradise from February 9th until April 29th, 2012. Not only that, but, like their Picasso exhibit in late 2010 to early 2011, they have a menu pairing with it (not to mention glassybaby products in Gauguin-friendly hues). (Your Hedonista recently attended the exhibit and a tasting as media.)
Now, this exhibit – which is organized by the SAM in collaboration with the Art Centre Basel in Basel and the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen – is not as large as the Picasso exhibit; it’s a smaller collection of Gauguin’s works combined with Polynesian art from around the time period of Gauguin (1848-1903). This exhibit is phrased as “An Elusive Paradise” because Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin first left for Tahiti in 1891, nearly a century into the massive population decline of Polynesia due to American and European contact and colonialism. Between the Catholic and Protestant missionaries and the establishment of the French protectorate that officially created the French Polynesia in 1889, the “noble savage” Gauguin hoped to find was long gone. Distressed at what he found, he instead began to paint his ideal of the (now lost) Polynesia. Once a family man with a wife (Mette-Sophie Gad from Denmark) and five children, in 1883 the stock market crash caused him to lose his job as a stockbroker – an event which triggered his family to relocate to Copenhagen. He was not successful in fostering a career in Denmark and was more interested in art; his wife became the primary breadwinner as a French language teacher. By 1885, he left his family; at this time, Gauguin became a full-time artist. For the remaining 23 years of his life, he spent most of his time traveling and painting. Ironically, he tried to escape European civilization, only to find it in full force in the French Polynesia. His tragic life was largely self-inflicted. Poor and frequently vexing the laws of both Church and State, he drank heavily, used drugs, took young, adolescent mistresses (young as in 13 and 14 years of age), had several children by them, contracted (and spread) syphilis, and died at 54 years of age on Hiva Oa in the Marquesas Islands, where he’d purchased land between a Catholic mission and Protestant Church, and dubbed this homestead “La Maison du Jouir” – “The “House of Pleasure.” Although it is perhaps imbalanced individuals like Gauguin who taint the word “hedonism” and give it a “bum rap,” if you will, the impact of his art is undisputed.
On that bitter note, the sweet menu at SAM’s TASTE is Polynesian-inspired. The Hiva Oa – named after the second largest of the Marquesas Islands – is one of TASTE’s current’ “Special Exhibit” cocktails. It is a heat-heavy drink made of hot pepper house-infused vodka, blended with mango purée, basil leaves, and fresh lime. “We lucked out with this one,” said TASTE Lead Bartender Duncan Chase. The vodka is infused not once, but twice: first last summer using Padrón peppers, then more recently with dried diablo chili pepper flakes. When I drank this one, it was rather like sipping tomatillo salsa verde out of a martini glass – and left me craving tortilla chips. I loved their House Made SPAM ($12) – SPAM seared in spicy bacon fat, slathered in dijon mustard and mache, and set upon a bed of rice and next to a side of greens. Then there’s their St. Jude Albacore Poke ($12) – tuna tossed in sesame dressing and served on a bed of bibb lettuce, served with a side of fried taro chips.
Oh, and I couldn’t resist their Cassoulet ($22): heirloom beans, leeks, and Stokesberry chicken confit, served with a slice of toasted brioche. (Apparently I’m not alone, as I was informed it’s a fav among the regulars.)
They have Gauguin/Polynesian-inspired desserts, too (think rum cake and pineapple almond upside down cake, dear hedonists. Both $7 a piece.)