The highlight of our New York gallery visits was Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs – over 100 works that Matisse began in the last 20 years of his life (1937-1954). The exhibition moved to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) from London’s Tate Modern where it was the most popular show in Tate Modern’s history.
As declining health began to limit his mobility, Matisse turned to painted paper and a pair of scissors to create colourful cut-paper forms – first assembled into interchangeable forms on his lap and later transferred and pinned to his studio walls. The flexibility afforded by pinning the shapes allowed for manipulation and replacement before a final image was decided upon.
It is difficult to verbalize the impact the exhibition had on me. The combination of colors, shapes and the juxtaposition of forms create a stunningly imaginative array of images – so simple, yet so complex. Moving from one highly charged room of color to another was like experiencing the inside of a kaleidoscope.
The catalogue is a treasure trove of images providing a pictorial reference for various works in different stages of creation on the walls of Matisse’s residences and studios. To see a piece in its final form in the exhibition is an once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Next, we took advantage of being in New York to see the exhibition Chris Ofili: Night and Day at the New Museum. A Turner Prize winner early in his career, his early work was not without controversy. In fact, his last showing in NYC was the object of censorship over his painting The Holy Virgin Mary, 1996. It seems the mayor at the time and quite a few others felt it was not appropriate to depict the Virgin Mary with a breast exposed and elephant dung as a nipple.
His vivid, masterful paintings certainly capture and hold your attention. The images Ofili presents are rich in color, with a multitude of textures, and, in his early creations, often provide an in-your-face parody of racial stereotyping and religious beliefs.
Since moving to Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago in 2005, his paintings have become less textured (out with the sparkles and other extraneous materials) as he manipulates the paints to produce rich color hues. He produced a series of paintings in a deep blue that he built up by layering over images that are difficult to discern at first glance. As your eyes adjust you begin to recognize troubling images of tension and violence. Blue Devils (2014) presents a disturbing reflection on the often violent relationship between black men and the police. This work is all the more poignant given the recent tensions between the black community and the police in the USA.
More recently, Ofili seems to have shaken off the darkness of his Blue Paintings as witnessed by the explosion of color evident in his newest paintings. I was glad that I saw the show and was able to become better informed about Ofili’s work – the talent, creativity and complexity on display will move most people past the controversy of his early career.
The final stops on our art-tour road trip were the Storm King Art Center in the Hudson Valley and the nearby Dia Art Foundation museum, Dia:Beacon. Storm King boasts a spectacular setting – 500 acres of fields, hills, and woodlands, at the base of the Storm King and Schunnemunk Mountains with a wonderful mix of carefully sited sculptures and installations.
Dia:Beacon, housed in a converted manufacturing plant, has over 240,000 square feet of exhibition space lit by natural light and features some of the most important American artists that came to prominence in the 60s and 70s. Some of my favourites on view include John Chamberlain, Walter De Maria, Dan Flavin, Michael Heizer, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt and Richard Serra.
I plan to write more about these two major art destinations in the future.
September and October were definitely an art appreciation marathon as we visited 17 major galleries and art installations in Canada, Europe and the USA. We have our work cut out for us as we reflect on all that we saw and experienced.
My Reading Priorities for 2015
Gordon Smith – Don’t Look Back. Black Dog Publishing for Equinox Gallery, Vancouver.
Curationism – How Curating Took Over the Art World and Everything Else by David Balzer.
The Book About Xu Bing’s Book From the Ground – Mathieu Borysevicz, editor.
33 Artists in 3 Acts by Sarah Thornton.