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a not so soothing armchair

July 15, 2010

[NYTimes] The Museum of Modern Art’s extraordinary “Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913-1917” is not your garden-variety Matisse exhibition. It contains few signs of the artist who said a painting should be the equivalent of a soothing armchair. By the end of this show you may wonder if that Matisse ever really existed, despite his much-quoted, overinterpreted words to that effect.

Instead “Matisse: Radical Invention” offers a view of a driven, even tormented Matisse, who second-guessed himself, rethought and reworked his images and often left them looking bracingly fresh and conditional, even unfinished. We see an artist increasingly interested in making clear not just his painting process, but also a kind of emotional concentration that, while hardly Expressionist, did not exactly exemplify the Olympian detachment habitually attributed to him.

With more than 100 paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings, the Modern’s show, which opens Sunday, offers a close reading of four of the most arduous years of Matisse’s long career, as well as the six or so preceding them. It was organized by John Elderfield, a veteran of several major Matisse exhibitions and the Modern’s chief curator emeritus of painting and sculpture, and Stephanie D’Alessandro, curator of modern art at the Art Institute of Chicago. (read)

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