01 September 2010

Matisse at MoMA

Of all the big name paintings at MoMA's Matisse: Radical Invention show, the one that's stayed with me longest is his above "Bather," from 1909.

The iconic, saved for last paintings "Bathers by a River" and "The Piano Lesson" are tremendous examples of art that is plainly correct, in a way that makes us feel Matisse's perfection of color, figures, space and brush/knifestrokes must be intuitive. The canvases are like the best poetry, with the finest details (of fabric, form, architecture, anything else) on top, then layered by importance. And some of the show's ordering was fun, like the way that still lives of apples matched the heads of the "Moroccans" in one room.

But back to my "Bather." He's rather hunched, like me studying him, and poised, black outlines quivering. The part that grabbed me was the aqua in his wake. The lighter blue infers movement in the otherwise flat blue sea. In that tension I could almost feel the water myself.

While shifting my weight from leg to leg as I looked, I thought of the bit in Mates of State's "An Experiment" that asks, "I wonder if I could tie the ocean to your knees?" I also wished I had headphones to drown out the super-parents parroting the "correct readings" of paintings from audio guides to their 5-year-olds' ears.

Surely I would have been a better instructor, after the children got over the trauma of me dispatching their mothers and fathers with swift kicks to the head

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