Henri Matisse is generally considered one of the finest artists of the 20th century. The current show at the Museum of Modern Art, called “Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs” traveled here from London’s Tate Modern where it was mobbed by over a million people. In order to accommodate all of the visitors, the museum stayed open all night during the last weekend of its run. So, I had no doubt the MoMA would draw a crowd, and of course during the holiday rush of tourists, I (along with my family) was prepared for a mob scene.
We maneuvered off the subway at Rockefeller Center, holding hands to form a line so we could slither around and through the solid mass of humans looking at the tallest Christmas tree. Muttering curses under my breath as it started to rain, I felt myself transforming into the Grinch. We managed to get up to the corner, sandwiched between a fur coat and a baby stroller, and were plotting our way across the street, when we were suddenly stopped by some out-of-state grandparents. They had three extra tickets to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular and thought our son would enjoy it. Like a Christmas miracle, we found ourselves instantly transported into Radio City Music Hall with phenomenal (i.e. expensive) seats for one of the most over-the-top holiday traditions since the Dyker Heights lights. We saw the Rockettes kick, little Clara do pirouettes and took a 3D ride to the North Pole. At five years old, my son is in the sweet spot age range for this show, and his jaw was hanging on the floor as he sat riveted in his chair. The good samaritans/ angels would not even accept a thank you card from us, and wished us good day after the show.
Our hearts warm with holiday spirit, we continued our way up to MoMA. This time we were entering the show in a bubble of gratitude. Yes, it was very crowded and you need to reserve timed tickets (unless you’re a member) to see the Matisse show. But through my rosy holiday lens, the approximately 100 cut-outs were examples of pure magic. In Matisse’s later stages of life he was unable to paint anymore, so he picked up a pair of tailoring shears and started cutting and piecing together collages. This simple technique is something we’ve all done since preschool. It’s a childlike activity that my son did the other day at school with white snowflakes on blue paper, but here the magic is all in the artist’s vision. The vibrant colors and the organic shapes are literally transcendental; they have been transformed from a simple child’s play into pure beauty. Seeing the all of the “Blue Nudes” together, instead of individually on a dorm room poster, was refreshing and gorgeous. “Oceania, the Sea” and “Oceania, the Sky” evoke murals of the sea, made out of cuttings. There’s stained glass windows he created for a chapel, original elements of his limited edition art book, “Jazz”, as well photographs and video clips of the artist working. What is impossible to see in photos of the exhibit, is the raw edges and pinholes on display, from where the artist would reorganize and try different placements for the pieces. Most engaging for my son was “The Swimming Pool”, a full room mural that was originally made for Matisse’s own dining room and has been restored by MoMA over the last two decades. Figures dive and leap in a ribbon around the room, making the viewer feel underwater.
Compared to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, the cut-outs felt a tad more subtle. But the pure joy that is conveyed by this show’s vibrancy seems to capture the holiday spirit in very much the same way.
The Museum of Modern Art, 11 West 53 Street (at 5th Avenue), New York, (212) 708-9400; Mon–Thu, Sat, Sun 10:30am–5:30pm; Fri 10:30am–8pm.; $25, seniors $18, students $14, children under 16 free. Fri 4–8pm free; Timed tickets necessary for Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs which can be ordered in advance online. Exhibit through February 8th, 2015
Radio City Music Hall, 1260 Sixth Ave (at 50th St.), New York 212-247-4777; Radio City Christmas Spectacular through December 31, 2014