One of the most amazing places in New York is the Museum of Modern Art. It houses an incredible collection of 20th century art, carefully selected and beautifully displayed. These are a few of my favorites.
This painting of Morocco by Henri Matisse is pared down to simple abstracted elements, perfectly balanced and unified by contrasting black marks. The color arrangement is simple and compressed and the repeating circular shapes carry the eye around the painting, echoing the confusion of, what appears to be, mid day Morocco. This confused movement is balanced and directed by the stripes and grids. Notice how the diagonal stripes in the top left lead the eye back into the painting, as does the grid at bottom center. I love the scattered, repeating yellows and the way he has tied the big slab of pink to the rest of the painting by carrying it through to smaller marks to the left.
Another painting by Matisse, again the subject is reduced to simple abstract marks, beautifully arranged to lead your eye up to the focal point of fishbowl and lemon. Matisse has halted the strong upward movement created by the tapering diagonals with the two white horizontal marks behind the fish bowl. The eye then wanders out to other carefully placed fragments of repeating warm colors before being drawn back to the focal point. The only curved lines in the painting are also arranged to hold interest around the focal point, circling it like a cloud or thought bubble, and contrasting with the hard geometric shapes in the rest of the painting.
In this painting called “The Piano Lesson” Matisse depicts his son being watched over by his piano teacher as he practices in front of an open window. The scene is lit by candle light so Matisse has used a number of large grey shadow shapes to separate and intensify the muted colors. The color arrangement again is kept very simple – warm shapes concentrated at the bottom, being led down to by a stripe of pale warm orange. Matisse has placed this stripe of orange alongside it’s complimentary blue. By matching the tonal values of the parallel stripes, Matisse has created a strange shimmering effect that almost hurts to look at. As you follow these stripes down to the head of his son, the sharp dark wedge over one eye seems to confirm the strange optical effect.
The following four images are of small collage paintings by Kurt Schwitters. Beautiful arrangements of colored paper, cardboard and printed matter – they have an aged, weathered look about them but still seem fresh and vibrant.
Robert Rauschenberg “Bed” At first glance this painting just looks like a heavily textured Abstract expressionist painting, but after a few seconds the heavily painted support sneaks up and hits you. According to the accompanying notes the bed was Rauschenberg’s. You wonder what wild dreams he had beneath these covers.