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.
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.