Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Matisse: The Cut-Outs

A new exhibit opened at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City last weekend. It’s called “Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs” and it showcases an extraordinary collection of the artist’s late work.  Before you yawn or groan and decide to skip this latest blog entry because you’re not a big fan of Modern Art, please bear with me and read on, there’s a reason I chose this topic.

I confess to not really knowing much about Matisse’s work before I visited this exhibit, and I’m not a huge fan of some of the modern abstract art movements. So what made me trek into Manhattan and battle the Columbus Day parade crowd to get to this show? Two lines from an article in The New Yorker magazine:

“Matisse made his first cut-out in 1943, in the Occupied French countryside, with German soldiers staked out in the basement. Two years earlier, doctors had given the artist only three years to live; he survived until 1954 . . .”

From the Tate Museum website

Further research told me that Matisse had separated from his wife in 1939; he was diagnosed with colon cancer and underwent a colostomy in 1941. That’s when doctors gave him the dire prognosis. He could no longer manage to paint, so he came up with the idea of creating art out of cut-out collage pieces, a method he had used earlier in life as “blueprints” for his later paintings. Videos throughout the exhibit show how Matisse worked either from his bed or a wheelchair, cutting out the shapes he visualized in his mind and having assistants pin them up on the walls until he was satisfied with the arrangement.

Many of the pieces reflect happy memories Matisse had of his visit to Tahiti in 1930. 
"The Sheaf" from the Tate website

One of the artworks, entitled “The Swimming Pool” is a huge work on exhibit for the first time in twenty years. Matisse decided one day that he wanted to go watch swimmers and divers at a nearby pool but when he was taken there the sweltering summer heat was too much for him. So he said if he couldn’t go to the pool, he would have the pool come to him and created a cut-out mural to surround all the walls of his dining room. MOMA has installed this piece in a room the actual size of Matisse’s dining room so you get the full effect of the piece and can imagine sitting down to dine in this playful atmosphere.

Part of the wall mural
I admit I didn’t pay all that much attention to the technical information about the artwork. Phrases such as “ornamental audacity” and “lyrical tilt toward abstraction” just breezed past my conscious mind. What I did focus on were the absolutely gorgeous colorful works that spoke to me of joy and vitality and persistence in the face of daunting obstacles.

Picture taken from the Tate website
 And oh yeah, another instance of a doctor’s dire prognosis being scoffed at (those “two years to live” turned into more than 13 years and Matisse died at the age of 80).

Our favorite works in the exhibit were the stained glass panels Matisse designed for a chapel in France. Stretch bought a copy of his favorite among these entitled “Nuit de Noel” (Christmas Eve) to hang in his art studio. It will be a reminder to us never to underestimate the power of the human spirit.

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