By Bonita James
Matisse in His Time: Masterworks of Modernism from the Centre Pompidou, Paris, was the catalyst in planning our road trip to Oklahoma City. Anytime we go to Oklahoma City, a trip to the Oklahoma City Museum of Art is usually on the agenda. The traveling exhibitions and permanent collection at OKCMOA are not only beautiful and inspiring, but the experiences the Museum provides are a work of art. Now through September 18, you have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see 50 paintings, sculptures, and works on paper by Henri Matisse. Yes, Matisse is in the heartland and OKCMOA is the exclusive stop in North America. This collection also includes fifty plus masterworks by Matisse’s contemporaries – Pablo Picasso, Amadeo Modigliani, Juan Gris, Georges Braque, André Derain, and Fernand Léger.
When I think of Matisse, I think of bold blues and solid yellows. I consider Matisse the original in color blocking with paper cutouts of sea-form shapes. I envision ladies lounging in colorful rooms, laying back to invite the viewer to let their gaze linger. I saw all of these wonderful styles in the exhibition and I found so much more.
The impact of Matisse
Walking in, I was hit with Matisse’s inspiration of the generations after him. Claude Viallat’s work Homage to Matisse, 1992, is exactly that. A massive canvas of iconic Matisse color combinations owns the space. The first room gives a glimpse of what the exhibition has to offer with works on paper and a timeline covering the leader of Fauvism’s life and work.
The layout and aesthetic of the exhibition is exquisite. The flow encourages visitors to spend time up-close and personal with each work.The paintings tell the story of the times and show what it was like for the artists in studio – painting models with fellow artists in the background and from different perspectives. Visitors see a vantage point from Matisse and his roommate, Albert Marquet. From their apartment window overlooking the Pont Saint-Michel and the Notre Dame Cathedral, there are two works from each artist, side-by-side. The subject matter is identical but the style of each is as unique as the creator.
The beginning of Fauvism
Fauvism took hold in the early twentieth century with Matisse and Derain. Bold and colorful brush work departed from creating realistic works. I identify the Fauvist movement as works which the emotion of stories are told in colors and shapes rather than in reality.
Fauvism and Cubism meet in the middle in the exhibition, just as they did at the time of their creation. Head-to-head, Fauvism and Cubism battled for superiority through the works of Matisse and Picasso. Personally, cubist work feels like conflict to me. The exhibition shares work from both of these movements and gives insight to the relationship and conflict between the two men – a competitive creative dialogue which continued for fifty years.
Faves found in post-Fauvism
Post Fauvist years, Matisse, Derain, and even Picasso, took a step toward more figurative and natural painting. In this part of the exhibition, recognizable Matisse works delight visitors. I found two works I particularly enjoyed in this part of the show. Lorette with a Cup of Coffee, 1917, shows the model who Matisse obsessed over, reclined with a relaxed gaze, possibly teasing Matisse with a peak of her garter and bare thigh. There is something there in this work and the story behind their relationship puts the work in a familiar and very human context.
The other work which struck my fancy was not created by Matisse but by Marquet. The Blonde Woman, 1919, is a captivating painting of a blonde nude model. There is realism within the shadows and subtleties of the human form. Aside from the beauty of the model’s body, it’s the bold colors adorning the space under and behind her that, perhaps, made this painting speak to me more than others.
Another notable and distinct work is Amedeo Modigliani’s Portrait of Dédie, 1918. Anytime I see the familiar features of one of Modigliani’s models, my heart sings. This is the second work of Modigliani’s I’ve seen at OKCMOA.
Full circle, in color
Visitors come full circle in the exhibition space which takes the entire second floor of the Museum. Those bright, bold colors and shapes are on view with the entire collection of Matisse’s Jazz, 1947. Toward the end of his life’s work, Matisse was incredibly productive but not in the style of painting. While working on the decor of the Chapelle du Rosair in Vence, France, Matisse created gouache cutouts for the project. Those became works in themselves in the animated-like autobiography, Jazz. These are the works I would first think of when I heard the name Matisse.
After visiting Matisse: In His Time, I have much more of an understanding and appreciation for the artist’s life and work. The evolution of time and influence greatly impacted the work of Matisse, his comrades, and even his rivals. The entire story is being told, right now, in Oklahoma City. It’s worth the trip down the turnpike to see and experience these masterworks before they leave the U.S. on September 18. During your visit, be sure to take advantage of the audio guide offered by the Museum in both the Matisse show and in, Our City, Our Collection: Building the Museum’s Lasting Legacy, on view through August 28. And, you cannot go to OKCMOA without a selfie in front of the Chihuly Tower, an icon in downtown Oklahoma City. The Museum has one of the largest collections of Dale Chihuly glass which spans his career and creations over time.
Tickets for this high-demand exhibition allow visitors a 15-minute window for arrival time with slots available throughout regular Museum hours. The last ticket sold for the day will be at 4 p.m. (Note: Art After 5 tickets on Thursday nights will be sold in person only and will be first-come, first-served the night of the event). The Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.