It seems appropriate that the Montclair Art Museum is currently offering not just one exhibition about Henri Matisse — “Matisse and American Art” — but two others, as well. This seems like a statement, in and of itself: That Matisse’s influence is so huge that it can’t be contained in just one exhibition, but spills over into others, as if it has a force of its own.
“Matisse and American Art” is, easily, impressive enough to make a trip to the museum worthwhile for any New Jerseyan with an interest in modern art. But with the two others there as well, museum-goers can really immerse themselves in Matisse’s vibrant art, and art that directly (in most cases) or indirectly shows his influence.
The main exhibition includes 19 works by Matisse, plus 44 by 34 American artists. The complementary “Inspired by Matisse: Selected Works From the Collection” features 53 more paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures by 42 American artists, all of which are part of the museum’s permanent collection. And “Janet Taylor Pickett: The Matisse Series,” which opened in September, represents a “creative conversation” (to use Pickett’s phrase) between a contemporary artist and the master who died when she was just a child.
According to the museum, “Matisse and American Art” is “the first exhibition to examine Matisse’s profound influence upon the development of American modern art from 1907 to the present,” and will only be seen in Montclair.
Lead curator Gail Stavitsky has said that the show was five years in the making, and that while other exhibitions on Matisse’s influence have had a narrower focus, “I extended the range of artists included to the present to emphasize Matisse’s ongoing impact.”
The exhibition’s earliest works come from the first decade of the 20th century, and include Matisse student Max Weber’s “Apollo in Matisse’s Studio.” One of the most recent works, Helen Frankenthaler’s “Untitled” (2002) is totally abstract, its connection to Matisse being its deep red color, which Matisse frequently used — a good example is Matisse’s “Pianist and Checker Players,” which hangs nearby. Also in the exhibition is Mark Rothko’s 1955 “No. 44 (Two Darks in Red),” which similarly echoes Matisse’s work.
Many of the works were conceived as homages, or show Matisse’s influence in obvious ways. Andy Warhol’s 1985 “Woman in Blue (After Matisse)” puts a cartoonish pop art spin on the classic, while Faith Ringgold’s 1991 “Matisse’s Model” arranges some of Matisse’s archetypical images in a quilt collage. Roy Lichtenstein’s “Bellagio Hotel Mural: Still Life With Reclining Nude (Study)” includes his own take on Matisse’s 1907 sculpture, “Reclining Nude I (Aurore),” which also can be seen here (cast in bronze in 1930).
Some of the same artists, including Weber and Ringgold, are also represented in the “Inspired by Matisse,” as are George Segal, Walt Kuhn, Natalie Frank and many others. (Other artists whose works are included in both exhibitions include Romare Bearden, Robert Motherwell, Maurice Prendergast, Alfred Maurer and Ellsworth Kelly).
One stunning work, and one that may be of particular interest to children, is a whimsical “Soundsuit” sculpture by Nick Cave — a brightly colored , life-size jumble of fabrics, beads, toys and other found objects.
“Matisse and American Art” and “Janet Taylor Pickett: The Matisse Series” run through June 18, while “Inspired by Matisse: Selected Works From the Collection” will be up through July 29. Visit montclairartmuseum.org.
Here is an NJTV “State of the Arts” feature on “Janet Taylor Pickett: The Matisse Series”: