Matisse at MoMA


A wall photo welcomes you to the Matisse show, Radical Reinvention 1913-1917, but there's no photography allowed in the special exhibitions galleries



This special exhibition, Matisse: Radical Reinvention 1913-1917, covers a period when the artist pared down his canvases—often by scraping back the oil or repeatedly painting over large passages of the image—to arrive at his most precisely geometric and relatively pattern-free compositions. Sometimes I think the museums invent Matisse exhbitions just to bring in visitors (and that’s fine; I’m always happy to see more Matisse) but this exhibition does focus on the manufacture of the image, the process, often accompanied by video and wall text, so that you can see something of the painter’s visual thinking.


Chief among the metamorphosed paintings of this period is Bathers by a River, below, a large work that initially appears to be comprised of several panels. It's one large canvas, close to 9 by 13 feet. (The Art Institute of Chicago, which presented the exhibition earlier this year, shows the development of the painting here.)


Bathers by a River, 1909–10, 1913, 1916–17; oil on canvas, 102 1/2 x 154 3/16". The Art Institute of Chicago, Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection. © 2010 Succession H. Matisse/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

I’m not in the habit of shilling for museums, but if you want to see the Matisse show at MoMA—and it’s a show worth seeing—you can get in early if you’re a member. I went at 9:30 on a recent morning, an hour before the museum opened to the general public. There were just a handful of people in the gallery with me. Other times I go to the members' preview evenings. And even if you don’t get in early, you can bypass the timed entries and the lines, which during the recent Marina Abramovic show, sometimes stretched around the block. Just flash your card and walk in. You can get into P.S.1, too. (There are different categories of membership, including an artist’s membership. It’s not listed on the membership page, so you have to ask for it. Be prepared to offer some proof that you’re an artist. I did it so long ago that I forget what I showed them—probably an exhibition announcement. Click here for general info.)


Radical Reinvention is up through October 11. If you miss it, there's always the Matisse room on the fifth floor. If you're new to MoMA, it's like walking through Janssons to get to that gallery. Here are a couple of works from there (photographing the permanent collection is allowed, sans flash):


Dance (1), 1909, oil on canvas
The Red Studio, 1911, oil on canvas


Matthew Beall said...

I saw this show when it opened- taking advantage of my membership to see it before MoMA opened to the public. As you say, it's worth the visit.

Binnie said...

It is a great exhibit. I really like his 'windows'...reminded me of Diebenkorn....also Matisse's colors! Worth a vist!

Nancy Natale said...

This was an interesting show because of the pedagogic components and the rather minute attention to a brief period of Mr. M's career. He's not my favorite painter but I did like seeing how hard he worked on Bathers and the risks he took with his work in this period.

If you don't have a membership in MoMA, you can order tickets on line for the hour you want and then just pick them up at the info desk on the way in. It's pretty painless and not a lot of waiting around. The tickets are good for general admission and show admission.

One other tip that Binnie and I discovered on our trip to MoMA, if you feel strongly enough about something at the museum to fill out a form at the info desk, they will send you two free tickets for admission that are good for a year. (We complained about all that screaming in the atrium, but I think we probably could just as well have said how wonderful it was if we completed the form because they like to get feedback from people willing to take the time.)

Casey Klahn said...

And they say colorism is dead. I particularly enjoyed the films of Matisse drawing via your link. Very nice!

Tamar Zinn said...

This show covers a period in Matisse's work that I particularly enjoy. And the exhibit included two of my favorites from the museums own collection--The Piano Lesson, 1916 and Composition, 1915. There is also an informative short film that details his process for Bathers by a River as well as his sculpture series, Back. Just one week left to catch this exhibit!

Gwyneth Leech said...

Thanks for the 9:30Am tip. I have been a member for a few years and never knew that. I do love just walking past the lines and timed entry folk, flashing the card and being allowed in. I have two kids so a family membership is a great thing - you know you are only going to be in the museum for an hour, any more and they will never consent to return.

I took my 7 year old to see the Matisse show. Halfway through she had a meltdown, crying out, "I want to paint, I want to paint NOW!" I know how she felt!

Alessandra Kelley said...

I saw this show when it was at the Art Institute of Chicago. It's really a fascinating evolution. I particularly was interested in a series of bronze busts he did of a friend, Jeanette, and how you could see he was developing the idea of cubist abstraction. The various stages of bathers (which I'm very familiar with since it's an AIC standard) were really interesting as well.

Even if you're not fond of Matisse (I'm not, oddly enough), it's a rewarding show.

Joanne Mattera said...

Just to clarify, that 9:30 preview times is a special thing for this exhibition. It's possible the museum will do it for others as wel. Best to check with the museum.