30 Aug, 2010

Nevermore O Tahiti

Posted by: admin In: Tate

Something that’s fascinated me for a long time is the rationale behind advertising campaigns for exhibitions, like the one that pops up on the Tate’s website for Gauguin: Maker of Myth. Most of you will be aware that the primary marketing tool of any exhibition project is this type of poster image. The standard for Tate, and many other institutions, is the exhibition title and an image selected from the works of art that will be in the exhibition. So far, so obvious! Some of you will know the painting we’ve used for the Gauguin poster – it is Nevermore O Tahiti from the Courtauld Institute in London. 

Tate Modern's Gauguin exhibition poster

As the weeks go by, you’ll be seeing more and more of this advertisement, especially if you live in London – on buses, on the underground, in newspapers, online, all over the place. What do you think of the poster? What messages does it send out? What kind of discussions to you think we had at Tate, before we settled on that particular painting?

Thinking about it, it’s a big ask for one work of art to represent and characterise a whole project, especially when you’re dealing with an artist’s whole career. I guess in marketing terms the issue is very straightforward, i.e. what immediately comes into people’s minds when you mention Gauguin’s name? I was at my local gym last weekend (don’t ask…) and I was chatting to someone about my job and what projects I was working on. I mentioned the Gauguin exhibition and they immediately said ‘Isn’t he that painter who lived in Tahiti?’

Perhaps it was inevitable then, that we chose a Tahitian subject to advertise the exhibition, and an image of one of Gauguin’s girlfriends (to put it rather coyly) to boot. But while this painting is in many ways an obvious choice – it’s one of Gauguin’s most celebrated works after all – there’s something very intriguing about it. What do you think?

Painted lady: Gauguin's 'Nevermore' Image courtesy Courtauld Collection

I find her expression quite haunting, and there’s a sadness pervading the image. Or am I being led by the title Nevermore O Tahiti, which Gauguin painted onto the canvas itself…perhaps an allusion to the idea of paradise lost (Gauguin was certainly familiar with Milton’s epic poem) or Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven?

Sometimes it seems that Gauguin’s titles are as important as the works themselves. He carved, painted and etched enough of them on his sculptures, canvasses and prints. Nevermore O Tahiti is a rare example in English but many more are in Tahitian (or what Gauguin thought was Tahitian!) Aha oe feii? Or E haere oe I hia? How about Manao tupapau?

We’ve devoted a whole gallery to investigating Gauguin’s titles, what purpose they seem to serve, suggesting stories and narratives to the viewer. And that’s where you’ll find Nevermore O Tahiti on display…if you come to the exhibition, that is… 

Gauguin: Maker of Myth opens at Tate Modern on 30 September. Book tickets online or become a Tate Member or Tate Patron and visit for free.

Read the original post on The Great Tate Mod Blog

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