State of the Art: With the Art Institute of Chicago's Exhibition "Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917" Poised to Open Later This Month, Art Historian Jeffrey Weiss Reflects on This Pivotal Period in the Artist's Career-Assessing Not Only the Show's Remarkable Discoveries about Matisse's Working Process but Also the Advanced Technologies and the Curatorial Approach That Made Such Insights Possible

By Weiss, Jeffrey | Artforum International, March 2010 | Go to article overview

State of the Art: With the Art Institute of Chicago's Exhibition "Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917" Poised to Open Later This Month, Art Historian Jeffrey Weiss Reflects on This Pivotal Period in the Artist's Career-Assessing Not Only the Show's Remarkable Discoveries about Matisse's Working Process but Also the Advanced Technologies and the Curatorial Approach That Made Such Insights Possible


Weiss, Jeffrey, Artforum International


IN HIS 1957 ESSAY "NEW YORK PAINTING ONLY YESTERDAY," the critic Clement Greenberg observed that, during the 1930s, Henri Matisse's painting Bathers by a River, 1909-17, was on view for some time in the lobby of the Valentine Gallery on East Fifty-seventh Street. (1) He claims he saw it there so often he could have "'cop[ied] it by heart." The implication is that it was an object of close study for many painters as well. What Greenberg ascribes to Bathers (and to Matisse's work in general) is an anticipation of the "Abstract-Expressionist notion of the big picture," with specific reference to the pictorial surface as something "breathing and open." Yet while artists may have drawn pictorial lessons from Bathers, it would not have been because of anything like a breathing surface. This magisterial canvas shows an enormous amount of labor, evincing none of the ease of execution for which Matisse had, by the '30s, been celebrated in the critical and popular press. To paraphrase Jasper Johns (speaking of his own work), Bathers by a River is a massive sum of corrections.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Such corrections are the chief preoccupation of "Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917," a remarkable exhibition--accompanied by a catalogue jammed with art-historical discoveries and new information--opening this month at the Art Institute of Chicago (and traveling to the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in July). Organized by Stephanie D''Alessandro, from the Art Institute, and John Elderfield, the former chief curator of painting and sculpture at MOMA, the project is revelatory. The show was conceived five years ago as an exhibition devoted to Bathers, which was then being cleaned by conservators in Chicago--where it resides--in preparation for the reinstallation of the museum's permanent collection in a new annex. The results of the conservation analysis were far-reaching, and that motivated a larger show, one premised on a reexamination of Matisse's methods throughout the five-year phase from 1913 to 1917, with substantial consideration of relevant works as far back as 1909, when Bathers was begun. The exhibition now includes some 125 works in various media--painting, sculpture, and works on paper (including a body of monotypes little discussed in the literature on the artist). Nearly all of the paintings included have, for this occasion, also undergone fresh examination through X-radiography and infrared reflectography. As a methodology, applying the lessons from the conservation studio to those of the artist's studio is not new; indeed, over the past two decades or so, museums and scholars have instigated a heightened, examination-heavy wave of art-historical study made possible by the application of technology to the analysis of painting and sculpture. But "Radical Invention" marks an apogee for the approach: The results will surely alter our understanding of this artist's work, even as they raise questions about the complexities of beholding in the age of the forensic eye.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

NOT SURPRISINGLY, given the focus on technical analysis, the most significant claims being made by the curators concern process--the way in which both the pictorial and the material nature of the paintings in particular can be directly accounted for by the groundbreaking methods used to produce them. The 1910s have long been characterized as a period of experimentation for Matisse. For most authors, this specifically refers to the artist's investigation of Cubism in paintings of quasi-architectonic construction often executed in a highly restricted palette, dominated by gray, ocher, blue, and black (some of the paintings even verge on the monochromatic). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

State of the Art: With the Art Institute of Chicago's Exhibition "Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917" Poised to Open Later This Month, Art Historian Jeffrey Weiss Reflects on This Pivotal Period in the Artist's Career-Assessing Not Only the Show's Remarkable Discoveries about Matisse's Working Process but Also the Advanced Technologies and the Curatorial Approach That Made Such Insights Possible
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.