Matisse. MOMA NYC. Review by Julia Pascal.


I missed the cut outs in London at Tate Modern and was glad to catch them at MOMA.

Matisse’s original idea of producing this cut and paste art form in the 1940s, was a major breakthrough in minimalism.  The genius of a great artist is to make complex work in a simple way.  I am focusing here not on the breadth of this amazing exhibition but rather on a few images that jumped out at me.

Pierrot’s funeral/l’enterrement de Pierrot made in 1947 has a real sense of theatre.  Pierrot is not there: the dominant image is that of the horse dragging his hidden form.  The cut out of the horse, which suggests a magnificent plumed head, has the animal’s body weight dragged backwards as its front legs rear up to keep  balance.  It dynamically transports a small carriage in white with a red form inside which could be a child’s drawing of a human shape.  Matisse’s magenta, yellow and white tableau offers a theatrical double of  circus pageant and death ceremony.  It asks us how can Pierrot ever die?

The Sword Swallower of 1943 has an open mouth that is not swallowing swords but women.

Poissons 1950 is an altarcloth and again the movement of this work is remarkable.  The fish are moving diagonally nose to tail.  Fish were the secret symbol of persecuted Christians in the Roman Empire and here Matisse makes this a playful game which has a hidden spiritual message.  In his 1949 Vance Chapel ink drawings Veronica wipes the face of Jesus but Matisse makes this an abstract of an anonymous woman holding up a sheet to show a simple line drawing of a man’s face.  Matisse mixes abstract with concrete reference and here the viewer brings the backstory.

As for the famous blue cut outs seen in the exhibition’s publicity, close up, they are much more sophisticated than the posters suggest.  His 1953 Woman with amphora has a biblical quality.  His 1952 Acrobats are startling doubles and reverses of backbends where the curve of belly and spine are imagined and re-imagined.  We see this through the work process of ten untitled drawings prepared before as a foundation for the large scale blue on white cut outs.

This is a taster of a few images that stuck to my retina.  The exhibition is refreshing, exciting and radical.  A new Matisse.

Julia Pascal © November 2014.