After an eleven-year interlude, the works of Matisse return to Tate Modern. After the Matisse Picasso exhibition in 2002, the focus is now solely on Matisse and his now iconic, paper cut-outs, and related works of his late period. Not surprisingly for one of the most celebrated artists of modern times, the show was heavily marketed as a ‘blockbuster’ and predictably, the crowds are flocking to Bankside. And rightfully too, for the objects here engage on a profoundly material level.
The exhibition consists of fourteen rooms, beginning with a video of an elderly Matisse cutting curved shapes into a piece of blue-painted paper. This emphasis on the physicality of the works as well as the creative process is continued in the presentation of the works through each room, despite the additional roughly chronological lay-out of the exhibition itself. This proves highly effective; visitors are able to walk through each room and feel the development of the works by engaging visually with the exhibits.
The displays are also sensitive to the content and colour palette of each, although not always. For example, a cabinet shelf is used in the third room to display all of the bright pages of the printed JAZZ book (1947), with some of the key prints framed above in their original paper cut-out form. The following room is appropriately much smaller and emptier, displaying Matisse’s more spontaneous, less colourful ‘Oceania’ cut-outs as they would have been in his apartment where they had first been pinned. Less inspired is the display of works in the eighth room, where cut-outs like ‘Zulma’ and ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ are simply hung around the white room.
In my mind, the exhibition rightly supports an entirely visual experience. There are of course information labels with the title, date and extra information about each work, but the placement of these labels means the viewer does not see them and the works; instead the labels and titles, to this end often coloured a more subdued grey, are there as a reference should the viewer wish to engage with them. If not, all the main texts throughout the exhibition are usefully included in the free exhibition information booklet.
Many key pieces are displayed, in particular the Blue Nude cut-outs (which are given their own room and comparing them to some of his earlier sculptures) and The Fall of Icarus, building up to his larger and more abstract cut-outs such as The Snail. But, what ultimately makes this exhibition well-worth visiting is the chance to see the smaller details often lost in reproductions of them: to see every little pin-hole, and every crease on the painted paper.
Tijana Todorinovic is a first-year BA student at the Courtauld.
Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs is at Tate Modern until 7th September 2014.