Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Cut It Out

Can you forgive me for that post title?  I hope so.

Finally got myself to MoMA to see the Matisse cut-outs exhibition.  It is my good fortune to have a friend who is a member so not only was it (almost) free to get in, we were able to get in an hour before the museum opened to the great unwashed aka non-members so the galleries were sparsely populated and viewing the works was easy and enjoyable.

Growing up, my family was not what you might call high cultured.  There was not a lot of art around the house, indeed, there was almost no art around the house.  My mom knits - and a most excellent knitter she is! - but looking at art, going to museums, talking about art and art-related  Art was a foreign land and I am sure it was more than once that my parents shook their heads and wondered how a foreigner was born into their family.  But there I was, burbling on about becoming an artist from the time I was able to put those words together.  Hey, it happens.

Within that distinctly non-art atmosphere, very few images of artworks creeped in.  For reasons I will never understand, the only artists that I had really ever looked at by the time I left for art school were Georgia O'Keefe, Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, Pablo Picasso and Claus Oldenberg.  Weird, right?  But imagine the amazement and joy I felt when I discovered Matisse and Cezanne and Delacroix and Giacometti and....and....and...the world was my oyster in the first year of art school.  Everyday was a good day, for sure.

And yet.  I distinctly remember two images from my childhood the fell outside these narrow confines.  These two, in fact:

Blue Silhouette II

I don't remember how or why postcards or posters of these two works were around our house, but they were and I don't remember even knowing that someone made them.  They were just kind of there - some kind of anonymous example of Art.  Well, today I saw them for the first time in the flesh, so to speak.  As always, when I look at anything by Matisse, the first word that enters my head is virtuosity.  He's got it.  In spades.  These two pieces are wonderful, and they bring back childhood memories, however puzzling.  But I have to say, they feel minor to me compared to other works in the exhibition.  

Yes, this man was a virtuoso.  I especially love that he left things looking unpolished.  The feeling of the hand is there as much as if he were wielding a brush.  They are complex and sophisticated.  And simple and playful.  They are a kind of crowning achievement of his life's work and they are humble and even functional - there are program covers and book covers among the masterpieces.  

There are two short videos of films made of Matisse making the cut-outs.  He sits in a wheel chair with a pair of huge scissors.  He has his assistants doing the legwork of putting the pieces he is cutting together up on the wall (we will overlook the fact that all the assistants are beautiful, young women...ahem).  Truthfully, there is almost nothing remarkable at all about what one sees in the films.  He doesn't have flashy technique.  He doesn't look particularly special or wise.  But, oh my, look what he created!

Seriously, look at what he created!  Go!  Especially go if you have a friend with a membership and get in an hour early.  It's worth it!  The exhibition is on view until February 8th.

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