Matisse at the Met: Interesting but Not Satisfying

We took advantage of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new Sunday hours — it opens at 9:30 am — to visit Matisse: In Search of True Painting before it got crowded.  The exhibit, which will be on display until March 17, 2013, boasts 49 works spread over eight carefully orchestrated galleries.  It was organized primarily by Rebecca Rabinow, a Met curator of modern and contemporary art, and by Dorthe Aagesen of the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen.

A view of Notre Dame cathedrral in Paris by Henri Matisse from the artist's rooms

One of Three Views of Notre Dame Cathedral by Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse lived a long, prolific life (1869-1954) using a vivid palette and a variety of styles, so it’s hard to know what to expect in a major exhibition.  What we didn’t expect was a lecture or a dissertation.  What we got was a powerful and scholarly exegesis of an unremarkable thesis.

The curators tells us that Matisse, like many artists, was a serial revisionist who relentlessly explored the same themes and settings wearing different glasses.  And, like many others, he achieved the ultimate expression of his vision by painting successively closer approximations to the signed canvas.  Quelle surprise…

To spell out the obvious, we think art appreciation isn’t about understanding the artist, the venue, the technique or the method, but about experiencing the personal effect. Although we are not above academic conceits, we would prefer to see them confined to the classroom.

Quibbles aside, we must tell you that there are several totally delightful paintings that you probably haven’t seen before.  Check out the curator’s selections (most of the exhibit) before you go.

The Matisse exhibit has been widely discussed.  We recommend Mary Tompkins Lewis’s review in the Wall Street Journal for an academic viewpoint   (It’s quite different from ours.)

Two suggestions.  Go early in the day to avoid the crowds (tourists love the Met).  And, if you’re a Bank of America or Merrill Lynch cardholder, take advantage of Museums on Us®,  which provides free admission to major museums nationwide on the first full weekend of the month.

About Louis J. Bruno

I studied English and psychology at Columbia College and stayed at Columbia, doing postgraduate work in psychophysiology, then teaching and doing research for several years. To keep the wolf from the door, I migrated into retail sales and management, at first for Radio Shack, briefly for Savemart, and finally for Newmark & Lewis. When N&L collapsed, I went into business for myself, providing sales, service, and maintenance of computer systems; designing, hosting, and maintaining websites; providing custom software, mailers, and database services to the real estate industry; and serving as a business consultant. My interests include writing, traveling, jogging, swimming, biking, hiking, gardening, photography, history, art, jazz, swing, country and classical music, investing, management theory, civic activism, sustainability, particularly energy conservation, good government, the environment, and technology. And more to come, I hope.

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