Thursday, February 5, 2009

Matisse at MoMA

The Egyptian Curtain (oil on canvas, 1948), The Phillips Collection, Washington
Back 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 City
I 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.


Gabby said...

Thank you for that! What cool simultaneous contrast, the coffee story and the paintings themselves. Very nice.

Anonymous said...

Oh I love the story of the waiting in line, the conversation and the homeless guy finding a purpose. And Matisse is just the bonus. :) Love his work.

Rebekah said...

Matisse is worth the hours of waiting; but observing what happened with the homeless man is an experience that can affect you for a lifetime. It is wonderful. I found you through Paris Parfait, and I'll be back!

Ruth said...

Matisse's vibrancy is perfectly matched by your tale of the MoMA line. This would be a terrific piece in a travel mag or art mag. Art meets life!

I really love that Matisse discovered and painted his love of brightness - while in France. He didn't have to leave and go to the Caribbean or Fiji. And he had to buck the sensibilities of his time to do it.

I feel inspired, thank you,

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Gabby,
Thank you for the compliment but it was quite unintentional. The day was filled with contrasts: the bitter cold outside and the warm Mediterranean paintings inside.

Dear Tara,
I'm so glad you enjoyed this little vignette. It was a memorable couple of days. Thanks for sending Rebekah to dutchbaby.

Dear Rebekah,
Welcome to dutchbaby! Ah, you understand about Matisse! I will never forget the eyes of that homeless man.

Dear Ruth,
You flatter me. I'm still working on my writing skills but they say it will improve with practice.

The light in the South of France is truly unique. I see a similar light here in California on occasional autumn afternoons.

ds said...

O...M...G! I went to that show too; it was every bit as fabulous as you describe (in fact, the book is one of the very few art books that I own). Love the story of the "coffee man." It says so much in such a small space.

Found you through Ruth's site. Will definitely be back!

Dutchbaby said...

Dear ds,
No kidding! Did you have to wait in the snow also? It was a spectacular show wasn't it? Almost overwhelming.

Welcome to dutchbaby and thank you Ruth!

Relyn Lawson said...

D - How did I miss this post earlier?!?!!?? Am so glad I got to it now. You have to know how much a love this post. Wonderful images, art museums, and a good story. Oh, yes. Perfect post.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear Relyn,
We all get busy. Thank you for stopping by!

California Girl said...

I love Matisse and would like to think I could still stand in line that long but...not too sure. Perhaps after my knee replacement.

When I lived in Richmond, VA & spent a week every month in DC, I would often head to the National Gallery of Art to see whatever exhibit was there. It was wonderful. I do miss living in a city.

Dutchbaby said...

Dear California Girl,
Where there is a will there is a way! Perhaps you would have waited just as long as I.

What a dream to be able to spend so much time at the National Gallery.

Thanks for dipping back into my archives to visit this post!

rochambeau said...

Hey Dutchbaby,
Your passion and determination to see this exhibit was paramount and I'm so happy that you got to see and be bedazzled by Matisse's work. I never saw this show. While reading your post, I realized the show I saw was after at The Philadelphia Museum of Art or The Met. Interesting about how museums trade around paintings. I'd like to meet your Green Eyed Matisse at the De Young.

Hope the Coffee Man ended up opening a PJ's or Starbucks!


Dutchbaby said...

Hey Constance,
This show forever changed how I perceive Matisse. Next time you come, we have to make a point to see the girl with the green eyes!

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