Henri Matisse: Radical Reinvention, 1913 – 1917, at the MoMA

Henri Matisse artwork 4 abstract figures at various angles mimin bathers in the grass and sun

What a wonderful treat, the just-opened Henri Matisse art show at the Museum of Modern Art. Sprawled out luxuriously in the larger of the MoMA's sixth-floor galleries, this full-scale exhibition includes some 120 paintings, drawings, sculptures and prints, the bulk of which have been culled from Matisse's most difficult creative period, a four-year stint from 1913 to 1917 during which the brilliant but perhaps unchallenging artist actively sought to stretch and push and "radically reinvent" his style. The result is an extraordinary body of work–veering towards Cubism, sometimes nearly abstract, even experimental–and an opportunity for us to witness Henri Matisse's growth as an artist. 

Henri Matisse art piece abstract window and tables with fish bowl and 2 orange fish swimming

We loved so much of Henri Matisse's artwork at the MoMA. The great "Goldfish and Palette", above, flirting with abstraction (have there ever been a more marvelously painted pair of little swimmers? the correct answer is: no, there haven't been), is nicely paired with Matisse's earlier, more conventional "Interior With Goldfish". Henri Matisse's art masterpiece Bathers by a River (at top) is here too, on loan from Chicago, in all of its glory, which is probably reason enough to see the show, but the Museum of Modern Art exhibition also does an excellent job of exploring the painting's painstaking creation over the course of nearly eight years.  

Henri Matisse at MoMA Piano Lesson pink piano and green triangle shape, child at piano, figure in corner

The Piano Lesson, above, has always been one of our favorites, for its stark shapes and head-turning color palette (not to mention the blank-faced, hollowed-out teacher in the background), and we also loved Henri Matisse's fruit bowls, and all of his windows (especially the hasty "View of Notre Dame"), and, really, every time he uses a lot of blue. There are lots of great, simple little etchings on display as well (though we had to smile at Matisse's seeming inability to draw hands) and the show includes an outstanding look at the evolution Henri Matisse's artwork, in particular, the monumental "Back" series (below), four sculptures which the artist worked on over the course of 23 years, and which the museum has hauled up from their garden and placed in chronological order throughout the galleries, ending with an nifty little video that shows exactly what Matisse added, and subtracted, each step of the way. 

Henri Matiss art sculpture The Back series of 4 figures shown from the back

Henri Matisse: Radical Reinvention, 1913 – 1917, at the MoMA Details 

Henri Matisse's artwork will be at the Museum of Modern Art from now until October 11, 2010. In anticipation of heavy demand, timed tickets will be required to enter the Henri Matisse art gallery, both to keep the crowds manageable and make everyone's viewing experience more pleasant. The MoMA is located on 53rd Street between Sixth and Fifth Avenues, and open Monday, Wednesday Thursday, Staurday and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and on Friday until 8:00 p.m., when admission is free after 4:00 p.m. Closed Tuesdays. For more information, please visit the MoMA's website.

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