Notebook (ambient)

May 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

memory-of-oceaniaDecoration, to sum up, seems regularly to offer itself within modernism as an alternative to art’s too high claims. But where the alternative leads – into what kind of accommodation with the culture industry – is never clear. I believe Matisse was right when he told his daighter that he had put into his late work ‘all the acquisitions of [his] life’, & that his skills as an artist would be sharpened by being put in the service of a new, more modest & realistic relation to the viewer. But he knew he was walking a tightrope. The best of the late murals – The Parakeet and the Mermaid from 1952, the grey Oceanias of 1946 – are remarkable for their unforced, drifting quality, the small shapes in them like knots & flutters in a vast empty field. The worst choke the field with optical buzz. The sustained unseriousness of Matisse’s brush with religion at this time, which served him so well as an artist, always threatens to collapse in the cut-outs into ritzy nostalgia for the South Seas: The LagoonCreole DancerThe NegressWomen with Monkeys. Naivety – which Matisse inherited from the 19th century as a prime aesthetic value – is shadowed by simple-mindedness, as much a stage prop as the movie’s straw hat. In an exchange with Picasso about the Chapel of the Rosary in Venice, a commission that Matisse worked on from 1948 to 1951 (‘Why not a brothel, Matisse?’ ‘Because nobody asked me, Picasso’), it isn’t the smug facetiousness of Picasso’s Party Line question that matters, but rather the suspicion that Matisse’s answer may be, though he hardly knows it, the whole truth. Decoration without somewhere to decorate – applied art without a realm of pleasure or praxis to apply to – such is modernism’s ‘Why not?'”


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