There was a moment when I stood at a strategic point where I could see through a few rooms at the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibit, “Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs” (Oct. 12, 2014-Feb. 8, 2015). The dazzling array of color created a fabulous vision, a feast for the eyes. As one moved about, one could see smiling faces everywhere among the museum-goers. Such is the happy effect this unusual exhibition offers.
I had missed it at the Tate Modern during a summer trip to London. Fortunately, it has come here, with some tweaking, and MoMA is giving it a fitting display. One surveys the evidence of Matisse’s genius as expressed in the work he has done with cut-outs, mostly as planning for larger undertakings or book illustration, but all in the form of achievements that stand on their own.
During the1940s Matisse worked with cut paper, and we see results in this dynamic show. A major feature is his cut-out “The Swimming pool,” which MoMA acquired in 1975. It was not shown for 20 years, but is a special piece in the current display.
Many of the cut-outs seen were for use in the 1947 book “Jazz,” which Matisse illustrated. There are 100 examples of Matisse’s work in the overall show. Everyone will have favorites, such as “The Clown,” “The Circus” or “The Sword Swallower,” to cite but a few examples.
There are minute cut-outs and huge ones, all revealing the extraordinary tendency of the artist to experiment. This is a special show not to be missed, and MoMA is to be commended for the decision to present it and for the way in which it is being displayed. At the Musuem of Modern Art, 11 West 53rd Street. Phone: 212-708-9431. Reviewed October 13, 2014.