Friday, August 6, 2010


MoMA Uses X-Ray Vision in Latest Exhibition
By Barbara Hoffman The New York Post
July 19, 2010

HOW do you like your art – as a cerebral challenge, or something simply to see and savor? You can have it both ways at MoMA’s new show of Henri Matisse, the culmination of years of research inspired by X-rays. And if that sounds dull, well, you haven’t seen this show.

Opening tomorrow, “Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-17” offers more than 100 works – paintings, sculpture and sketches. Most are from a pivotal period in the artist’s career, when he became infatuated with what he called “the methods of modern construction.” The world was sliding into war, and Picasso and others were caught up with the angry geometry of Cubism. Matisse, freshly back home in Paris and rethinking his colorful, decorative style of painting, began to make a kinder, gentler form of Cubism,and embarked on a frenzy of revision.

That artists tweak their work is nothing new. (J.M.W. Turner even pasted a dog onto a landscape already on display.) Matisse reworked the same sculpture, “Back,” on and off for 21 years – a process you can actually see via the digital presentation at the end of the show, in which newfangled technology lays bare the underlying layers of this and his “Bathers by a River.” (What’s next – MRI’s for Michelangelo?)

The show is organized chronologically, beginning with the years leading up to this transformative time. In the first gallery, you’ll see the small Cezanne painting “Three Bathers,” which inspired Matisse’s version years later, along with the small sculpture he used to work out a painting of a big, voluptuous nude.

Elsewhere, his concentration on line and form become clear in side-by-side canvases, “Interior With Goldfish” and “Goldfish and Palette.” Painted just eight months apart in 1914, the first is a more conventional scene, with a pretty view across the way; the second, an abstraction bounded by strong black lines.

“Still Life After Jan Davidsz de Heem’s ‘La Desserte’ " is as big as its title. It’s based on a 1640 still life Matisse’s teacher had him study at the Louvre, which by 1914 was closed by the war. Matisse painted it from memory, abstracting as he did so – true to his methods of modern construction.

That painting is from MoMA’s collection, as are a quarter of the 40 or so in the show. It’s only fitting, said Claude Duthuit, the artist’s grandson, because Matisse “had a particular love of New York . . . that inspired him everywhere he went.”

The feeling’s mutual.

“Matisse: Radical Invention” runs through Oct. 11 at MoMA, 11 W. 53rd St.; 212-708-9431.

Originally published by Barbara Hoffman.
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