Baltimore Museum of Art
Matisse/Diebenkorn Artistic Soulmates
By Jacqueline Bell Johnson
Through January 29th
Matisse/Diebenkorn is an exhibition 15 years in the making, ending this month at the Baltimore Museum and opening at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in March.
Reading biographies of Matisse and Diebenkorn side-by-side reveals both to be great students, which lead them to be great artists. They have actively viewed work from both predecessors and peers utilizing these observations in the development of their painting. In addition to looking, Matisse was known for collecting work of his fellow artists, even going into debt for it. Diebenkorn’s stint in the Marines gave him the opportunity to view the collections of Museums in New York, Philly and DC, influences he would use later in his career. Twenty years later he traveled to the Soviet Union, seeing works of Matisse that have been inaccessible to the world for years.
Walking into the exhibition you are immediately confronted with a Matisse painting of a room interior. The work conveys skewed perspectives with an extravagant amount of rich, straight-from-the-tube red paint on a canvas the size of a window. Nearby is a Diebenkorn of a similar scale. It’s an imperfect perspective painting of a street in Santa Monica using wild and loose brush strokes. In that first step into the gallery, the viewer is struck by the similarity with which both artists approach space. There are not-so-subtle outlines where planes meet, rapidly transcribed resulting in both the flattening of the image and exaggerating depth. Diebenkorn uses white with his color, very much like Matisse uses red with his.
These revelations are seen throughout the exhibition. The layout of exhibition alternated the two artists’ work fairly evenly throughout the gallery space, making for an immediate comparison between artists. The curation is detailed and on point, moving from each subtle phase to the next in their artistic evolutions. Similarities abound, gallery visitors can be seen running back to an artwork’s label to confirm who in fact made the work.
A wall of black and white figure studies was the guilty pleasure of this exhibition. Diebenkorn is studying Matisse’s compositional layout of objects on the page, but utilizing a scratchy, more linear pencil mark which adds a hint of architectural quality to his work. Matisse’s figures are treated as a platform to create turns and curves in charcoal giving the model a seductive sway.
It is in their study of other artists that both develop works that became part of the canon of modernist art. However, the connection is so much more than that. With 36 works by Matisse and 56 by Diebenkorn in this show, the latter artist becomes an extension of the former. They become artistic soulmates.
This exhibition is closing at the BMA on January 29th, and will be opening at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on March 11th.
Baltimore Museum of Art
10 Art Museum Drive
Baltimore, MD 21218
From October 23, 2016 — January 29, 2017
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art
151 3rd Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
March 11–May 29, 2017