Tag Archives: Matisse

Fluff and Flowers: Summer at The Met

At The Met (main building), through July 29, 2018:

Visitors to Versailles 1682 – 1789 


Public Parks, Private Gardens – Paris to Provence

Complementary seasonal shows at The Met, beginning with an artistic tour of 18th-century Versailles.   An excellent mixed-media installation on the sensory experience of visitors to the  extravagant complex developed by the Bourbons.  Do the audio guide, which is not just speechifying, but includes dramatized period anecdotes and recreated probable ambient sounds (nature, music).  An integrated arrangement of carriages, couture, furniture, personal objects, wallpaper, and landscape, architectural, and portrait prints and paintings gives a great overview of varied continental styles of the era, as well as precisely who visited and how—sometimes in costume ruses aimed at avoiding scrutiny for those rich and famous rulers and diplomats who came mainly to party.   Other than to specialized cognoscenti, few artist names will stand out.  Mostly, as you will see, late French Baroque was the result of an ongoing collaborative design machine of similarly well-trained, interchangeable  artists and craftsmen in the shadow of Louis XIV’s maestro, Charles Le Brun,  along with porcelain and tapestry factories.

An abundance of images and objects here are self-referential–related to the ongoing design enrichment of the grounds and palace, including panoramas documenting operatic-scale pomp and ceremony, and amusing zoomorphic, allegorical garden sculptures.  One charming and telling naturalistic painting to note depicts laborers clearing brush, by Hubert Robert, who also stands out with a proto-Impressionist scene of fireworks at night.

Moving into 1800, gardening petered down to the bourgeoisie as a civic and personal craze, as Public Parks, Private Gardens delineates, also through a multi-media presentation that includes botanical illustrations, photographs, diagrams, popular prints, glassware, ceramics, and period gardening accoutrements, as well as painting.  Not unexpectedly, Impressionism reigns. It’s hard to believe that such lovely flowery fluff was once considered art-radical.  Repros inevitably dull the continued fresh-air ambiance and semblance of synaesthetics in the fragrant foliage depicted in work by the original practitioners gathered here, along with bold heritors like Van Gogh and (finally here) Matisse.

Mary Cassatt, Lilacs in a Window (1880-83); in the Public Parks/Private Gardens exhibition, summer 2018 (image from The Met’s Collection database)



Form vs. Bodily Function: Henri Matisse and Robert Gober Shows at MoMA

(both through early 2015)

In many ways, these two shows jointly display the polar opposite outer limits of what (Western) art has encompassed over the past century (roughly). Virtually the only thing that joins them here are MoMA’s ticket prices (no joke; it’s all-in-one visits, for better or worse).

Matisse: close-up time for the famed “cut-outs,” for which,  needless to say,  we (artsy folk) have been long and well primed.  I was all set to admire them breezily, secretly precipitating an inner “meh” after decades of deconstructing and reconstructing (and back again) various aspects of the oeuvre in general. I was way off—and, dare I say, (sure) blown away.

The chroma-brilliant, extensive floor-to-ceiling display of leafy squiggles, spirals, squirts, stars, sea creatures and hand-hewn geometry brings a whole new connotation to the how-little-can-I-get-away-with-and-exploit-to-the-max approach to art—in the just-form-but-what-form genus. The universally (yes) acclaimed jazzy dancers and circuses bounce around the walls; watery scenarios especially stand out—all of it, equal parts autonomy and carefully eyed and adjusted placements of raw-cut, rainbow-hued shapes, from miniscule to monumental.  Some of the less familiar (to me) were mural-scale works featuring semi-schematic arrangements of skewed, simplified objects and forms from nature, suggesting, but never quite becoming, all-over abstraction, as well as coded, semiotic fields. A room of the fragmented blue nudes evoke the forthcoming ones from Yves Kleins more than ever (not least in eliding respective metaphoric and literal use of women’s bodies), but here, Matisse really gets off with a “never mind” due to his inimitable anthropomorphic puzzle-ry.  His diversity within the intuitive boundaries of his late-discovered, shape-shifting discipline dazzles.  The exhibition is amply informative on technique, including footage of the cagey, quietly cranky old artist communing with his assistants, scraps, and shears.

Gober, well, he’s definitely out there—has been from the beginning of his public art career in the ‘80s. It’s a Freudian field day–in America, for sure–with sinisterly reconfigured baby cribs, signature hand-fabricated kitchen sinks popping up everywhere, and hairy prosthetic legs sprouting candles, not to mention penises, and even a few vaginas. Some partial bodies are hidden behind half-open doors in spaces cut off from viewers; and one gallery has been transformed into a painted Freudian forest, punctuated by an over-sized synthetic cigar sculpture among other “fetish” objects in its environs. Most of the work adds up (as far as content) – what doesn’t, well, there’s plenty on view in this mid-career retro.   You get the main idea/s, because Gober never lets up with his intensely human grotesqueries, which sometimes represent missing, or absent souls: longing, lost innocence, the brevity and fragility of childhood, metaphors of cleanliness linked to sex, illness, disaster, death, commemoration. It’s an impressively brave oeuvre and approaches in places the sublime (in lieu of the beautiful).  The coup de grace is a Christ-figure fountain with water shooting from the nipples.  Pain, renewal, Surrealism.