Speaking back to Matisse: Art Gallery of NSW dazzles with comprehensive, complicated show | Henri Matisse

Among the Art Gallery of NSW’s new blockbuster exhibition Matisse: Life & Spirit, there’s a piece that will stand out to a recent viewers. Ornamental determine on a decorative floor (1925-26) contains a bare feminine determine embellished with ornate rugs and wallpaper; it’s lovely, however like a lot artwork from the time, it casts the lady solely as an object – even ornament.

Distinguished feminist artwork theorist Linda Nochlin has stated of Henri Matisse and his modern Pablo Picasso that they “binge on the feminine nude however denigrate precise girls”. Once we meet on the exhibition, co-curator Jackie Dunn tells me: “Matisse himself stated that ‘the determine is ornamental, the background decorative’.”

Decorative figure on an ornamental ground (centre) at the Art Gallery of NSW.
Ornamental determine on a decorative floor (centre) on the Art Gallery of NSW. {Photograph}: Mim Stirling/AGNSW
Odalisque with red culottes (Odalisque à la culotte rouge) (1921), by Matisse.
Odalisque with purple culottes (Odalisque à la culotte rouge) (1921), by Matisse. {Photograph}: Centre Pompidou/AGNSW

Co-presented by the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the show is the most important exhibition of the French artist ever seen in Sydney, that includes greater than 100 works of portray, drawing and sculpture. In its accompanying exhibition, Matisse Alive, modern artists re-contextualise, problem and complicate the trendy grasp’s artwork and legacy.

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Matisse is understood for his dramatic and expressive use of color, and for his rivalry with Picasso in pushing the conventions of portray – performed out amid his favorite material, girls and nonetheless lifes, which function prominently on this exhibition. Bare girls’s our bodies – bathers, dancers and fashions – are rendered in work, drawings and a collection of monumental bronze sculptures of backs.


However they’re offset by the exhibition’s main focus: the most important show of his late “cut-outs” to ever be proven in Australia.

The sorrow of the king (1952) and Polynesia, the Sky and Polynesia, the Sea (1946), at Matisse: Life & Spirit.
The sorrow of the king (1952) and Polynesia, the Sky and Polynesia, the Sea (1946), at Matisse: Life & Spirit. {Photograph}: Mim Stirling/AGNSW

In 1941 Matisse was 72 years outdated, and unwell with stomach most cancers. Following a complicated surgical procedure, he was bedridden for months and by no means recovered the flexibility to stand and paint. As a substitute, he turned to paper cut-outs: drawings made with scissors, instantly into colored paper. He was significantly impressed by a visit he took to Tahiti in 1930; the colourful blues of the works Polynesia, the Sky and Polynesia, the Sea of 1946 evoke Matisse’s expertise of swimming in a lagoon off Tahiti, and the connection of the sky above to the water beneath him.

“Matisse lived by way of heavy occasions however his lightness lifts individuals’s spirits and their souls,” feedback co-curator Justin Paton. This comes by way of in vibrant, playful works reminiscent of Matisse’s late self-portrait The sorrow of the king (1952), and a recreation of his closing masterpiece, The Chapel of the Rosary in Venice, France, the constructing of which was accomplished in 1951.

The sorrow of the king (La tristesse du roi) (1952).
The sorrow of the king (La tristesse du roi) (1952). {Photograph}: Centre Pompidou/AGNSW

However Matisse additionally continued the French custom of Orientalism: portray scenes from French colonies that replicate white male fantasies, and subjugate girls from North Africa and the Pacific. Cultural theorist Edward Stated described Orientalism as half of the huge controlling mechanisms of colonialism – and on the ground under the main exhibition, an accompanying show, Matisse Alive, makes an attempt to unravel some of the complexities of his legacy. On the centre are commissioned initiatives by 4 modern girls artists: Robin White, Nina Chanel Abney, Angela Tiatia and Sally Good.

Travelling down the escalator, Nina Chanel Abney’s exuberant portray 2 Step (2021) grabs your consideration. Her daring, angular figures overflow their giant canvas. Abney’s work may be simple to swallow however exhausting to digest, Paton says: brimming with color and power, it explores the African American expertise and presents a powerful critique of police violence.

Abney was born in Chicago and lives in New York Metropolis; in one other portray, Framily Ties (2021), she turns her consideration to her buddies, or chosen household. Her figures are gender fluid and angular, and occupy a really totally different topic place to these portrayed by Matisse upstairs. However her use of color and scale parallels Matisse’s dance murals, and a way of lyricism and kinetic pleasure is palpable in each artists’ work.

Nina Chanel Abney’s works at the Matisse Alive show.
‘A way of lyricism and kinetic pleasure’: Nina Chanel Abney’s works on the Matisse Alive show. {Photograph}: Diana Panuccio/AGNSW

The Pearl (2021) is a mesmerising video work by Angela Tiatia, the consequence of a current analysis journey to Tahiti. Tiatia is a Sydney-based artist, born in New Zealand with Samoan heritage.

In The Pearl, vivid sweet pink plastic clam shells open and shut whereas hyperreal, computer-generated water foams and flows over them to a crescendo of drums. Tiatia retells the classical fantasy of the delivery of Venus, taking Matisse’s personal Venus in a shell (1930) as her place to begin.

Angela Tiatia and her ‘mesmerising’ video work The Pearl.
Angela Tiatia and her ‘mesmerising’ video work The Pearl. {Photograph}: Diana Panuccio/AGNSW

“[Tiatia is] wanting to deal with the place of artists and others voyaging to the Pacific and searching on the feminine physique in a technique … She is talking about it from a really modern place — the capability to be sexual, important … and inhabit the world with out the constraints of the colonial view of the Pacific,” says Dunn.

Sally Good’s collaged, fabric set up attracts consideration to the labour of Matisse’s feminine assistants, who created his cut-outs – seen in pictures proven by way of the exhibition.

The tivaevae display.
The tivaevae show. {Photograph}: Diana Panuccio/AGNSW
Soon, the tide will turn (2021), a work on barkcloth (masi) by Robin White with Ebonie Fifita.
Quickly, the tide will flip (2021), a piece on barkcloth by Robin White with Ebonie Fifita. {Photograph}: AGNSW

In the meantime, Robin White’s inside scenes painted on barkcloth function think about conversations with Matisse within the Pacific, with the artist represented by symbols: hat, footwear and chair.

The show additionally options a wonderful cling of tivaevae: embroidered quilts made all through Polynesia, with daring, pared-back designs that reveal the clear line of inspiration Matisse drew from them. He took two tivaevae back to France with him.


With 4 modern artists – two with ties to the Pacific – talking back to Matisse, almost 70 years after his demise, Matisse Alive alerts a dedication to look extra broadly, and critically, on the complicated hierarchies inside artwork historical past, and the position our establishments play in deconstructing them for the long run.

Matisse: Life & Spirit and Matisse Alive are each displaying on the Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney

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