Max Geller (artist)
Max Geller is an American performance artist and human rights activist. An outspoken voice on the Jewish left, Geller is an organizer and activist for the BDS movement and Palestinian human rights, and a frequent speaker against Zionism. Despite the disproportionate amount of attention Jews get for speaking out against Israel, Geller has consistently emphasized the need to center Palestinians in the struggle for their own liberation.
Geller’s activism often employs non-traditional tactics, drawing on performance art, erudite references and irony to provoke social discomfort without expressing an explicit political agenda. His performance art, on the other hand, frequently relies on methods of activism, blurring any distinction between art and politics. Most famously, Geller is the founder of #renoirsucksatpainting, a tongue-in-cheek social movement to remove the paintings of Auguste Renoir from museums around the world. He has frequently leveraged the Renoir Sucks at Painting project into media coverage for the BDS movement and other social causes.
At sixteen, Geller was arrested for burning an American Flag on the 4th of July and draping the charred remains over the liberty bell at town hall in his hometown of Brookline, Massachusetts. For his senior capstone project at his small arts high school, Geller learned Aikido, and demonstrated his mastery by fighting his mother.
In college, Geller conned his way into an appearance on the daytime television show Judge Mathis. The performance put on by Geller’s troupe, filled with outrageous claims, false hysterics, and demands for justice, mocks both reality television and the criminal justice system.
In 2005, George Edward Jed Smock, Jr. AKA “Brother Jed,” came to protest liberal values at the Colorado College campus. Geller showed up dressed in Klansman robes and joined Brother Jed’s rally, thus aligning Jed’s crusade with the overt white supremacy associated with the KKK. Later Geller distanced himself from the early performance due to its racial insensitivity.
In 2007, while traveling the world, Geller arrived in Palestine, where the struggle of the Palestinians for their own liberation, and Israel’s violent response, left an indelible mark on him. He returned to Palestine several times over the course of the next few years, and later continued his activism back in the USA, where he has been an active member of many groups organizing on behalf of Palestinian liberation, such as NSJP, IJAN, USCPR, and others, and has been a frequent contributor to a variety of conferences and journals.
Palestinian Flag on the Pyramid of GizaEdit
In 2009, Geller joined a group of international Palestinian activists who were attempting to break the blockade of Gaza. After being turned away at the border, Geller and his cohort scaled the walls of the Pyramid of Giza and flew an enormous Palestinian flag from halfway up. The image became an iconic representation of the attempts to break the blockade and was featured in newspapers throughout the Arab world.
Students for Justice in PalestineEdit
While Geller was a student at North Eastern Law School, he became president of the local chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, where he staged a series of interventions to bring awareness to the cause. These culminated in the group delivering mock eviction letters to students that resulted in SJP being suspended by the administration. Geller immediately took the case to the national media gaining widespread attention for the incident, defending the incident in an op-ed in the Boston Globe and an appearance on Democracy Now.
New Orleans City Council BDS BillEdit
In 2017, Geller was instrumental in the New Orleans Palestinian Solidarity Committee's successful lobbying of the City Council to pass a Boycott Divestment and Sanctions bill in solidarity with the Palestinian cause. Because the legislation didn’t explicitly name Israel, opting instead to target “human-rights violators”, Zionist groups claimed that the NOPSC had tricked the city council into passing the resolution and after fierce counter-lobbying from powerful pro-Israel forces, the city council rescinded the resolution.
Activism as Performance ArtEdit
In addition to Geller’s history as a political provocateur, he has also used his knack for creating viral ideas and images to mount ambiguous, seemingly frivolous interventions in the art and music world. Often, Geller uses these absurdist actions to build a platform to raise other, more serious cultural and political issues. The most famous example is #Renoirsucksatpainting.
Renoir Sucks at PaintingEdit
In February 2015 Geller created the instagram @Renoir_sucks_at_painting, and began posting images of Renoir paintings and captioning them with a combination of sardonic wit and vitriol. Soon after, the account began to go viral, attracting the attention of reddit streams, content aggregators, art critics, and Renoir’s own descendants. At the same time, Geller began to use the platform to make larger political critiques.
When Renoir's great-great-granddaughter responded to an instagram post in May of 2015 saying "when your great-great-grandfather paints anything worth 78.1 million dollars...then you can criticize. In the mean time[sic], it is safe to say that the free market has spoken and Renoir did NOT suck at painting." Geller reposted the comment and replied, "The free market has indeed spoken. Climate change; the Prison Industrial Complex; Slavery; Settler Colonialism; the destruction of sea otter habitats; the evisceration of the proletariat; commercials on TV; Food Deserts; Citizens United; National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (457 Million Box Office!); for-profit healthcare; and, yes, the exaltation of your great grand pappy, Baron Von Treacle himself, #Renoir--have all been unleashed upon us by the free market." Through this exchange, the account began to gain significant media attention.
On October 5, 2015, at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Geller organized the first of what would become many major anti-Renoir protests. When the protest garnered criticism in the Boston Globe by Sebastian Smee, a Pulitzer prize-winning art critic, Geller responded by publicly challenging Smee to a duel. The feud quickly gained national attention, and along with a second protest at the Metropolitan Museum of New York a week later, helped skyrocket the movement to headlines across the globe.
Geller continued traveling the country organizing anti-Renoir protests at art museums in major cities around the country. After a protest at the Art Institute of Chicago, Geller was a guest on a local news station there, where he once again expanded the focus of his movement from Renoir's paintings themselves to the misogyny and white supremacy of the canon at large. "At the end of the day," he said, "it’s about access, who has access to our museums... I think the art institute should sell some of these Renoirs...and instead buy some art that is painted by women or people of color."
Many in the media began to realize the Renoir Sucks movement was part of the growing ouvre of protests and performance art from Geller. While the movement reached its apex in the fall of 2015, it has continued to spawn mini-protests all over the world, including at the White House where President Trump is an admirer of Renoir. Art critics are still grappling with the after-effects of the movement as recently as June 2019.
Misc Other Performance Art PiecesEdit
While Renoir Sucks at Painting is Geller's most well known aesthetic protest, there were any smaller ones that preceded it.
- In the mid 2000s, Geller organized a protest at the Phish concert at Fenway Park, a series of protests at Matisyahu concerts, and attempted to sell radically anti-Creed merchandise outside of Creed concerts.
- More recently Geller has resurfaced in the news for his satirical Venmo requests of celebrities, politicians, and public intellectuals including Ben Affleck, Jonathan Franzen, Sean Spicer, and more.
- Geller has starred as cohost of a leftist Boston sports podcast with his brother called Phone Wallet Keys David Ortiz.
In addition to the array of staged satirical public performances, Geller also has a history of spontaneous confrontations with politicians.
- A 2007 spat with Tony Blair that left Geller in a trashcan after Blair’s security team intervened.
- In 2008, there was a vicious back-and-forth with former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia during a question and answer period at Harvard Law, where Geller demanded an answer as to why, according to Scalia's arguments in DC vs Heller, Geller shouldn't be allowed to purchase a surface-to-air missile and a bazooka. The exchange caused such an outburst of laughter in the auditorium that the Q-and-A was ended prematurely.
- In 2014, Geller sent dessert to senator Chuck Schumer at a restaurant in New York to "thank him for subverting democracy," prompting Schumer to flip him off.
- "Renoir Hater Is a Pro-Palestinian Activist". artnet News. October 8, 2015. Retrieved December 25, 2019.
- "Northeastern University limits free speech". The Boston Globe. Retrieved December 25, 2019.
- "To resist a 'Muslim registry' we need active solidarity not symbolic gestures". Mondoweiss. November 21, 2016. Retrieved January 3, 2020.
- ""God hates Renoir": He sucks at painting, and this is why you should care". Salon.com. Retrieved January 3, 2020.
- "Protesters Demand Metropolitan Museum Remove 19 Renoir Paintings". Hyperallergic. October 19, 2015. Retrieved December 25, 2019.
- Nathan-KazisNovember 7, Josh; Geller, 2015Courtesy of Max. "When Anti-Israel Activist Blasts Renoir, Media Sits Up and Takes Notice". The Forward. Retrieved January 3, 2020.
- "Phone Wallet Keys David Ortiz: Season 3 Episode 6 on Apple Podcasts". Apple Podcasts. Retrieved December 28, 2019.
- Shapiro, Lila (October 8, 2015). "Leader Of 'Renoir Sucks' Movement Challenges Critic To A Duel To The Death". HuffPost. Retrieved December 25, 2019.
- Mathis Part 1, retrieved December 25, 2019
- "Phone Wallet Keys David Ortiz: Season Three Premiere! on Apple Podcasts". Apple Podcasts. Retrieved December 28, 2019.
- canarymission.org https://canarymission.org/individual/Max_Geller. Retrieved December 28, 2019. Missing or empty
- "نشطاء فرنسيون يرفعون علم فلسطين على هرم منقرع". وكالة عمون الاخبارية. Retrieved December 28, 2019.
- "Free Speech Debate Rekindled At Northeastern". On Campus | WGBH.org Blogs. Retrieved December 25, 2019.
- "Mock eviction notices lead to suspension of NU's Students for Justice in Palestine". The Huntington News. March 14, 2014. Retrieved December 25, 2019.
- "A War on Campus? Northeastern University Suspends Students for Justice in Palestine Chapter". Democracy Now!. Retrieved December 25, 2019.
- Chávez, Aída (January 11, 2018). "New Orleans City Council Passes Measure Pushed By BDS Activists". The Intercept. Retrieved December 25, 2019.
- "How New Orleans Almost Got Duped Into Endorsing BDS". Tablet Magazine. January 26, 2018. Retrieved December 25, 2019.
- Chávez, Aída (January 26, 2018). "New Orleans City Council Caves to Pressure From Jewish Groups, Rescinds Human Rights Resolution". The Intercept. Retrieved December 25, 2019.
- "Renoir Sucks At Painting (@renoir_sucks_at_painting) • Instagram photos and videos". www.instagram.com. Retrieved December 27, 2019.
- "r/ArtHistory - 'Renoir sucks at painting' movement demands removal of artist's works". reddit. Retrieved December 27, 2019.
- "Renoir Heir Strikes Back at Haters". artnet News. October 6, 2015. Retrieved December 27, 2019.
- Gajanan, Mahita (October 6, 2015). "'Renoir sucks at painting' movement demands removal of artist's works". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved December 25, 2019.
- Smee, Sebastian. "Review | More and more people loathe Renoir. Is it time for a revival?". Washington Post. Retrieved December 25, 2019.
- "Un Américain veut chasser Renoir des musées" (in French). October 16, 2015. Retrieved December 25, 2019.
- Buchel, Madeline (January 19, 2016). "'Renoir Sucks' movement questions deeper meaning in fine art". The DePaulia. Retrieved December 28, 2019.
- "The guy who hates Renoir comes to Chicago". WGN-TV. October 26, 2015. Retrieved December 28, 2019.
- "Renoir Sucks At Painting on Instagram: "We tried to warn y'all. #renoirsucksatpainting #trumplovesrenoir"". Instagram. Retrieved December 28, 2019.
- Smee, Sebastian. "Review | More and more people loathe Renoir. Is it time for a revival?". Washington Post. Retrieved December 28, 2019.
- "Phone Wallet Keys David Ortiz: Season 3 Episode 5 on Apple Podcasts". Apple Podcasts. Retrieved December 27, 2019.
- Hampton, Rachelle (July 23, 2018). "In Praise of Venmo Humor, From Elaborate Emoji Jokes to Randomly Charging Ben Affleck Small Sums of Money". Slate Magazine. Retrieved December 27, 2019.
- "Phone Wallet Keys David Ortiz on Apple Podcasts". Apple Podcasts. Retrieved January 14, 2020.