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By: Tad Simons | Posted: 02/24/2014
Henri Matisse is one of those classic artists—like Mozart, Monet, and Michelangelo—whom everyone seems to like, because his work is at once aesthetically pleasing, artistically sophisticated, and instantly accessible. Sure, his nudes might have a few weird proportions, and his color schemes might lean toward the busy side, but you know what you’re getting with Matisse, which is why the Minneapolis Institute of Arts’s newest exhibit, Matisse: Masterworks from the Baltimore Museum of Art, will probably break all kinds of attendance records. It helps that it’s a great show, of course—but it helps more that it’s Matisse, the master the masses love to love.
In America, if you love Matisse, the place to go has always been the Baltimore Museum of Art. Baltimore is the hometown of the Cone sisters, Claribel and Etta, two wealthy socialites who spent much of the early 20th century in Paris buying up paintings by Matisse, Picasso, Cezanne, and all their pals. The MIA exhibit features more than 80 works by Matisse from the celebrated Cone Collection, and—combined with an additional exhibit, More Matisse, Please, that showcases many of the MIA’s own holdings, including the entirety of Matisse’s Jazz project—constitutes the largest concentration of Matisse in the country at the moment.
The exhibit spans Matisse’s entire career, including several sculptures, and is an excellent general survey of his work. You don’t even have to be much of an art student to see the “father of modern art” pulling away from impressionism and toward an entirely different aesthetic, distinct from Picasso and his peers, that laid the groundwork for the artistic “freedom” explored by Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns, Mark Rothko, and other American painters.
In addition to the paintings themselves, the MIA has added videos of Matisse himself in action, as well as several photos of the man in his studio, which provides a distinctly personal connection. One of the great things about Matisse is that he was not an eccentric egomaniac; he was a regular guy with a strong work ethic who kept at it for more than sixty years. In person, Matisse looks like a kinder, gentler version of Sigmund Freud, and his career is a model of persistence and dedication—another quality that endears him to the vox populi.
I could go on and on about this exhibit, but the truth is it’s simply one of those shows that everyone should make a point to see. Essential cultural experiences don’t come along very often, but this is one of them. Heck, even the exhibit’s dedicated gift shop is a work of art. And who knows: There might even be a Matisse-print handbags in your future.
Matisse: Masterworks from the Baltimore Museum of Art continues at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts through May 18.
Tad Simons is a contributing editor for Mpls.St.Paul Magazine's arts and entertainmenet section. See bio
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