- Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 July 2012 00:27
The universal appeal of Henri Matisse (1869-1954) is acknowledged in a major exhibition opening at the National Gallery of Denmark (14 July – 28 October 2012), yet another reason to revisit the extremely agreeable and handsome Nordic metropolis, writes Sajid Rizvi.
In Doubles and Variations, we are promised a range of "absolute masterpieces" of the French artist's oeuvre from museums and collectors worldwide -- and let there be no misconceptions. Matisse touches more hearts than many others of his contemporaries and remains hugely collectible across cultures. The exhibition is the result of collaboration between the national gallery, Statens Museum for Kunst to Danes, the Centre Pompidou in Paris where it was seen earlier and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where it will go next.
At the risk of sounding a tad patronising, the National Gallery of Denmark has to be one of the great hidden treasures of northern Europe -- even as it is anything but hidden: an imposing exterior of a startling Italian Renaissance style showing off successful revivalist architecture of that genre from the late 19th century.
But that is not all. As past visitors already would know, behind that handiwork of Vilhelm Dahlerup and G E W Møller and their talented teams lies the modern extension designed by Anna Maria Indrio and Mads Møller of architectural practice Arkitektfirmaet C F Møller.
The original building and collection emerged from kingly rivalries, when no European monarch worth his salt wished to be outdone in art, as in armor, and opened around 1896 after about seven years of construction. King Frederick V, perhaps a beacon to the sheikhs of Qatar, went on a bank-busting shopping spree to amass treasures before the four walls could come up. He was steered wisely and probably saved from bankrupting the kingdom by German curator and keeper Gerhard Morell.
The new buildings, linked by a glass-covered walkway that opened in 1998, raise hope that new art will join the new architecture in a not too distant future.
But enough of the much cherished venue, back to Matisse, probably one of the most copied -- or emulated, depending on the end result -- innovators of 20th century art. Forming by deforming, defining by unrefining and using kindergarten colours and techniques earned Matisse many detractors, though not for long.
Matisse arrived on the scene when Europe struck out on a global multi-faceted exploration but still hesitated to experiment or open collective minds to what was new and fresh or allow itself indulgences of deeper sensibilities. Matisse pioneered not only new ways of interpreting things but also encouraged his audiences towards new ways of viewing and consuming -- awful word, that -- his innovations in art.
The exhibition brings together and presents 53 Matisse paintings, 15 drawings, and 22 photographs, many of which are his great and familiar masterpieces, making this retrospective potentially one of the most comprehensive overviews of Matisse’s life’s work from the very beginnings of his career to the end.
The gallery's introduction points out the exhibition differs from standard retrospectives about Matisee by virtue of its insistent focus on the artistic process itself; here, Matisse’s method of exploration comes under close scrutiny. Special attention is directed towards how the artist would repeat the same motif in series and pairs while systematically varying the colours and modes of expression. The exhibition juxtaposes a wide range of these interrelated works, several of which have rarely been shown together since they left the artist’s studio.
During some periods of his career Matisse had his works photographed at crucial stages of the creative process. The photographs offered a way at capturing a range of possible solutions for each painting, documenting the often dramatic changes that would take place from one day to the next. The exhibition presents a range of these photographs, which testify to how the process itself was often as important to the artist as the final outcome. The exhibition also presents the results of technical studies conduced on a number of central works over the course of the years of research that preceded the exhibition. Together, these studies and photographs offer visitors a chance to gain deep insights into Matisse’s working process.
The exhibition has a chronological structure, we are told, that allows visitors to trace how Matisse would often repeat and return to his subjects at different stages of his career. Before, during, and after their visit, visitors can immerse themselves in Matisse’s universe through sound, text, and images presented by an app for their smartphone or iPod. Visitors can borrow an iPod from the Gallery’s Information desk during their visit.
The exhibition was shown at the Centre Pompidou from 7 March to 18 June 2012. After the completion of its run in Copenhagen the exhibition will travel to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it will be on display from 3 December 2012 to 17 March 2013.
The exhibition is supported by Augustinus Foundation, Knud Højgaard Foundation, Kandinsky Foundation and Beckett Foundation.