by Genna Rivieccio
Henri Matisse is one of those rare artists that prove one is capable of getting better with age. His recently concluded retrospective of the cut-outs at MoMa, which he began painstakingly creating in the 1940s, proves that Matisse not only innovated an entirely new medium, he also perfected it in his lifetime. The intentional crudeness of each piece offers a fresh perspective on modern art that remains vibrant and avant-garde today.
The comprehensive look into this underrated, yet incredibly prolific period in Matisse’s career featured nearly one hundred works of art borrowed from both public and private collections. While MoMa has been in possession of Matisse’s landmark cutout piece, The Swimming Pool, ever since it was acquired in 1975, this was the museum’s first attempt at adequately paying Matisse his due with respect to the assiduous artistry it took to endeavor through this final complete decade in his career.
Walking through the maze of rooms, one immediately senses that this is Matisse at his most confident, self-assured and I-don’t-give-a-fuck-what-you-think mindset. After suffering the judgment of his father (who abhorred him for becoming an artist instead of pursuing law as he originally intended) and the merciless condemnation of critics during his Fauvist and Impressionist period, during which one critic noted of an exhibit Matisse was a part of, “A pot of paint has been flung in the face of the public,” the forties were Matisse in an unbridled fury of imaginativeness.
The build-up to the cutout style that Matisse would cultivate was characterized by experimentation with odalisques in the years prior that would ultimately become a precursor to his willingness to throw even further caution to the wind with undertaking an entirely new medium–all while wheelchair bound in the wake of a colostomy (which, one would surmise, merely added to the discomfort of working).
Created with a host of assistants and students, Matisse, who would die soon after this epoch in 1954, affirmed that art is a lifelong commitment; it should never be given up over the excuse of age. And while the entire breadth of his repertoire yielded meaningful and memorable works, it is arguably the cutouts that remain his most impactful–largely because he was conceiving and constructing for himself as opposed to others more than ever before.