Jill and I had braved the tube strike to schlep to London. Our objective was the Tate Modern and the new show of Matisse’s cut-outs which he produced after his illness, sitting in his wheelchair and directing his young assistants as to placement and colour
There are 130 of them in the Level 2 gallery at the Tate Modern, and they have provoked extraordinary reviews and even more extraordinary praise. “For many people” said Nicholas Serota, “the Cut-Outs will be the most evocative and beautiful show that London has seen.”
Well, it isn’t. And, as my English teacher remonstrated with me, “evocative of what?”
Granted, the work is attractive and decorative. But that isn’t enough. I can get that anywhere at any time.
Granted, there is some interest in seeing the originals, discovering those little bits of paper that have been pasted over a mistake or on a whim. They add the texture that is missing from the reproductions.
And granted, the colours are vibrant and vivid and slightly vulgar in their flat obviousness. Significantly, there are no organic colours here; they are all synthetic, lacking in depth and naturalness.
But those familiar images are all here – the Dancers, Jazz, the Blue Nudes, Oceana and the chapel at Vence.
One can imagine their Provençal provenance: slight strips of colour and form hanging from a drawing pin axis on the wall and fluttering in the breezes from an open window. Matisse spoke of the way in which the easel became redundant and his work released from the constraints of a frame. He regarded them as a kind of wallpaper, even if he subsequently claimed that they constituted "my real self: free, liberated.”
But in the exhibition they are framed and they are constrained. They have borders and edges. And as such they are merely conventional graphics; even - perhaps especially - those iconic images with which we are all so familiar, which one can buy as a poster and which hang in a million bed-sits. I mean the Blue Nudes, the abstracted Snail and Icarus (above).
So if the exhibition is intended as evidence that, in old age, “he did not merely create a new style, he created a new medium”, it fails.
More importantly, it fails to hold the attention. It’s more of the same from room to room.
I think the issue – my issue – with these works is that they are … well, not paintings. What we saw was a great painter not painting. Not print-making either, although these work so much more immediately as reproductions.
I really wanted to be be impressed, to relish the sensual colours and shapes. But I wasn’t. I really wanted to love the artist that my wife loves above (almost) all others. But I couldn't. And I really wanted to learn about how complexity operates in simplicity. But I didn't.
All I can say is that they were, mostly, pleasing to the eye.
But not as pretty as a picture.
Today from the everysmith vaults: Free flowing jazz and rock improvisation from the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Santana and McLaughlin in a series of gigs from Concert Vault: each manifesting elegance and lyricism and weirdness. After Coltrane, this is where to go.