Alex Woods Ballard

Matisse and An Imagined Museum: Works From the Centre Pompidou

Henri Matisse is undoubtedly one of the most prominent figures in Fauvism, and was a pioneer in defining ‘plastic arts’. Featuring at the Tate are a select few of his paintings, as well as one of Matisse’s most significant pieces, The Snail. Tate Liverpool is the last place it will exhibit before settling permanently in London’s Tate.

Matisse in Focus

An element of the extraordinary sets the tone for the exhibition as a whole. The period of the pieces varies, ranging from 1903 to 1953, expanding more than fifty years of work from the artist. The Snail – being one of his later pieces – is impressive, simply because of its height and breadth alone (it is nearly three metres square). However, it also indicates a marked change stylistically for Matisse, who adopted the paper cut-out technique due to ill health preventing the continuation of his painting.

In contrast to the block colours of the cut-out piece, the effects of Matisse’s time in Algeria can be seen in Standing Nude. A melee of African primitivism and cubism, the fact that it was drawn from a photograph rather than a model is reflected in the flat, angular markings of the woman. Another favourite featuring a more sombre tone of colouring is the Trivaux Pond. With its loose brush strokes and predominantly watery-blue themed palette, it is the perfect depiction of serenity that has an almost dream-like feel to it.

My reverie was shattered abruptly when we entered the exhibition, ‘An Imagined Museum: works from the Centre Pompidou’. An exhibition that seemingly simulates museums, while simultaneously being based around the book ‘Fahrenheit 451’, this show is a hot-pot of surrealistic European art from 1945 onwards.

The novel depicts a dystopian world in which literature has been banned, except that which can be remembered by heart. The exhibition attempts to recreate this vicariously through the artwork. One piece which explicitly depicted this was Order and Disorder, which contained a multitude of multi-coloured separate squares, which all originated from one point on the wall but slowly descended into disarray, one even ending up on another wall bordering another art piece.

Trivaux Pond 1916 or 1917 by Henri Matisse 1869-1954

Trivaux Pond 1916 or 1917 Henri Matisse 1869-1954 Bequeathed by C. Frank Stoop 1933

One room was particularly engrossing. It was a dark, dingy room, with sofas and chairs that had forms representing human figures seeping out of them, while half-formed bodies were captured mid-frame, savagely tearing at the walls to escape the hovel. If a Francis Bacon work were brought to life, this would be the physical manifestation of it.

The most entrancing piece, however, was a temporary space that served as a platform for half-naked ballerinas to perform in a semi primal dance-off. This was regulated by another ballerina who controlled their movements by a blow of a whistle while simultaneously playing the drums. I felt strangely transported, not just because the drumming pervaded all of the exhibition area and my hearing, but also because of the temporary standstill and total absorption of the viewers that the performance produced.

Whether you are left excited and confounded, or simply disturbed, this exhibition is bound to be worth your while, ‘indifference’ being a term that could not be present while experiencing it.

If this review has left you wanting to witness Matisse’s masterpieces for yourself, the free exhibition is running at the Tate Liverpool until May 2nd. More info can be found on their website

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