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.
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Before it gets away from us, another show to put on your “must-see” list is Kneehigh Theater’s Tristan & Ysuelt at the Guthrie Theater, which runs through March 23.
If you were a fan of Theatre de la Jeune’s work back in the day, you’re going to love Kneehigh’s approach to this classic tragedy. The resemblance isn’t aesthetic; it’s in the collaborative company approach to the material, and the inspired, often zany ways in which they layer the modern over the classic to create an absolutely unique and engrossing theater experience.
At times in the first act Kneehigh comes awfully close to trivializing the tale with its humorous asides and tongue-in-cheek tartness. But the second act brings it all home, creating an extraordinary spectacle that’s both theatrically brilliant and emotionally honest. The final fifteen minutes are as raw and gut-wrenching as theater gets; and the last scene is as fiery to the eye as it is to the heart.
Kneehigh is the theater out of Cornwall, England, that brought us a spell-binding Brief Encounter a couple of years ago. Tristan & Ysuelt is the show that brought the troupe to international acclaim, and it’s easy to see why.
Again, Tristan & Ysuelt should be compulsory viewing for anyone interested in theater, just as Matisse: Masterworks of the Baltimore Museum of Art should be for anyone interested in anything of cultural significance in the 20th century. That should cover just about everyone, of course—so snap those tickets up while you can.