TIO NYC: Seeing Matisse’s Cut-Outs At MOMA

“Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs” is a show you won’t want to miss.

But you will want to wait. (It opened on October 12 and runs through February 8).

And you will not want to go on a rainy day.

On rainy days in the Big Apple, the Museum of Modern Art morphs into a giant umbrella under which hoards of people from all over the world huddle for protection from the wet and wind.


With the help of a friend, who is a  museum member, we were able to jump the lines in the lobby. (You may want to consider buying a membership to beat the crowds.) Upstairs at the show, however, more of the same. Still, seeing Matisse’s cut-outs is well worth the jostling. It is an eye-popping tribute to an artist who in the eyes of critics and the general public can do no wrong. These late works are a robust exhale after beating abdominal cancer (and other adversities: Matisse and his wife of over 40 years separated at her instigation, WWII, etc.) and a crowning achievement in a storied career that lead to the artist’s enduring rock star status.

For an excellent overview, read this story by Holland Cotter of the New York Times.

Near the end of his life, Henri Matisse’s preferred attire was evening wear, by which I mean pajamas. They were the ideal uniform for the invalid, insomniac night worker and waking dreamer he had become in the decade before his death at age 84 in 1954. And it is the dreamer and worker we meet in “Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs,” a marvelous, victory-lap show that arrives from London, where it drew more than 500,000 viewers at the Tate Modern last summer, and opens in a larger form at the Museum of Modern Art on Sunday.

Why is late Matisse pulling such crowds? Partly because of a popular image of the elderly artist, derived from photographs and long in circulation, as a serene, bespectacled pasha propped up in a bed in sunny Nice surrounded by doves and flowers. And the cutouts themselves, so photogenic, have an exceptionally direct appeal: color, line, beauty without reservation.

But the reality, of the life and the work, was far more complicated. In the years around 1940, Matisse must have felt he was living a nightmare. In 1939, he and his wife of more than four decades legally parted ways, at her instigation. Two years later, he was found to have abdominal cancer and underwent a grueling operation. During World War II, he fled Paris, only to have danger follow him. In 1943, he had to abandon his apartment in Nice when the city was threatened with bombardment and rent temporary quarters in Vence several miles away.


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