The Egyptian Curtain (oil on canvas, 1948), The Phillips Collection, WashingtonBack in late 1992 I went on a business trip to Washington DC. I decided to pay for an extra hop to New York City because there was a major Matisse retrospective showing at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Since my sister- and brother-in-law live in Westport, Connecticut, I had no hotel costs.
Museum of Modern Art, New York CityI got up early on Saturday morning to catch the 7 a.m. train into New York. When I arrived at the museum, there was already a huge line wrapped around the block. I chose to stand in the “short” line where you pledge to become a member. I stood in line for over three hours, maybe it was four, in a huge snow storm only to learn that they were not going to let any more people in that day. I had worked my way up to about 20th in line.
I developed meaningful relationships with the people standing in queue with me. The two men standing ahead of me were travel agents from Berkeley, California. They bought two very expensive tickets from a scalper on Friday but they turned out to be fake tickets! The elegantly dressed lady on the other side of me was from Greenwich, Connecticut. There was a bedraggled, very sad-looking homeless man with dull eyes who shuffled up and down the line asking for spare change. A few people gave some token change, but then one of the Berkeley men had an inspired moment. He gave the homeless man a five-dollar bill and said: “You see that coffee cart down the block? Buy me a cup of coffee (this is before the Starbucks latte days) and I’ll give you another five when you return.”
Then of course I said: “Here’s another five, but make sure mine has cream and sugar.” The next thing you know, he had more orders than he could carry in one trip. Note: suddenly everyone had spare change :-(
When this man returned with our coffees he had a lilt in his voice and a sparkle in his eyes. “Now who had the cream and sugar?” People truly want to be productive.
My sister-in-law still talks about the fact that I decided to take the 6 a.m. train the following morning. “You’re not really going out in that weather again are you?”
“But it’s Matisse! And it’s the biggest show ever!” I never considered not going. The Berkeley travel agents told me they were going to go a third day. Getting up that extra hour earlier made all the difference in the world. It was super-duper cold during the first hour but I got in within an hour or so from the museum’s opening. The show was worth every minute of standing in line. As for the homeless man, he paraded up and down the line all morning taking coffee orders and I didn’t see those dull eyes again.
The exhibit was spectacular. There were 400 works of Henri Matisses's works, displayed on three floors of MOMA, beginning with his early works as an art student, through his “fauvism” period,
Open Window at Collioure , 55 x 46 cm. , Private Collection, 1905
continuing on to the cross-pollination of ideas with Pablo Picasso, his time in the South of France, and finally to his larger-than-life Jazz collages nearing the end of his life.
La Gerbe, 294 x 350 cm., 1953
I didn't know much about Matisse when I walked into the exhibit, but I felt privileged for the glimpse into his wondrous and rich mind. I would do these two days all over again if I had another opportunity.
Copies of the book published for this exhibit are still available on the used market.
I know you are all breathing a sigh of relief that I didn't just see it, because it would take me fifteen posts to finally finish talking about it.