Henri Matisse, the Performance Artist

THE DAILY PIC: His cool cut-outs are best when they reveal their hectic making.

Henri Matisse, Deux danseurs (Two Dancers) (1937–38). © Succession H. Matisse.


Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs opened a few days ago at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and this is one of its crucial pieces: A study called Two Dancers, made in 1937-38 for the stage curtain used in the ballet Rouge et Noir. It’s what launched Matisse into making art from painted paper that he cut out and arranged into compositions. It also gets at something else: The most interesting thing about Matisse’s cut-outs is the hectic, Dionysian process of arranging and rearranging that gets him to his final image. Two Dancers, with its crude construction and visible thumbtacks, hints at the “performance” that went into its making, and at the contingency that implies. It links Matisse’s cut outs to the earlier, “aleatory”, Dada collages of Jean Arp, for which the artist threw down bits of colored paper and declared their accidental arrangement his finished composition. (That’s Arp’s story at least, although there’s some doubt about the date of those pieces and how they were really made.) When Matisse streamlines his process to end up with elegant images in other media–prints or stained glass or even textiles–pure decoration starts to take over. It’s too Apollonian for its own good. (Musée national d’art moderne/Centre de création industrielle, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. Dation, 1991. © 2014 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)

For a full survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.


Article topics
Subscribe or log in to read the rest of this content.

You are currently logged into this Artnet News Pro account on another device. Please log off from any other devices, and then reload this page continue. To find out if you are eligible for an Artnet News Pro group subscription, please contact [email protected]. Standard subscriptions can be purchased on the subscription page.

Log In