London Van Gogh Exhibit Criticized for 'Insensitive' Merchandise
A Van Gogh exhibit at the Courtauld Gallery in London has received criticism over souvenirs that some feel are insensitive.
Vincent Van Gogh was known during his life for mental illness, having received treatment later in life and ultimately committing suicide. Most famously, the Dutch artist cut off part of his left ear, which the Courtauld Gallery referenced through its merchandise offerings, including an ear-shaped eraser, a bar of soap whose description says "for the tortured artist who enjoys fluffy bubbles," and an "emotional first aid kit for 20 key psychological situations."
Jaw dropping Van Gogh self portraits at the Courtauld. As for the contents of the gift shop, am not entirely sure this is what he’d have wanted pic.twitter.com/NQLsjZMODZ
— Ben Dowell (@BenDowell) February 6, 2022
In response to the criticism, the Courtauld Gallery said in a statement that it "takes mental health extremely seriously," and vowed to remove the items from sales shelves.
"It was never the Courtauld's intention to present an insensitive or dismissive attitude to this important subject by stocking these items," the gallery said in a statement, according to CNN. "The items in question form a small fraction of those made available as part of the exhibition collection. In light of these concerns, the items will no longer be sold in our stores."
"This is, after all, the Courtauld Institute, supposedly the center of Art History in the UK if not Western Europe," art critic David Lee said, according to CNN. "Would they, for example, be prepared to sell pencils in the shape of a false leg at a Frida Kahlo exhibition?"
You'd hope not.
There is room for humor in most situations, but it's vital to make sure you tow the line between referential or lighthearted, and mean-spirited or offensive. For the Van Gogh exhibit, it feels in poor taste to rely on the artist's mental struggles for the merchandise, rather than the art itself.