Matisse and Ellsworth Kelly, Louis Vuitton Foundation review: a clever combination of colorful masters

Arriving at the Louis Vuitton Foundation for the elegant spring double exhibition, visitors immediately part ways. The French go up the stairs, where Matisse: The Red Study, haughty and serene queen: the show of the season that must be seen in Paris. Tourists, especially Americans, go down the escalators to Ellsworth Kelly: shapes and colorsan elegant retrospective examining 66 years of monochrome painting.

Designed by Frank Gehry, the Vuitton, located in the Jardin d’Acclimatation playground, with its curves rippling over the small boating lake and merry-go-rounds, is an ideal combination of French intellectual joy and American chutzpah, and the same goes for these two shows.

Both are American imports: Matisse from MoMA, Kelly from the Glenstone Museum. Together, they summarize the broader developments of modernist painting: towards abstraction, monumentality, the primacy of color, the French influence in America, the innovation that passed from Paris to New York in the middle of the century.

Matisse’s groundbreaking “Red Study” (1911) entered MoMA in 1949. Representing his workshop in Issy-les-Moulineaux, Matisse dramatically and riskily altered the composition at the last moment: he painted two-thirds of the surface in deep Venetian red , subsuming walls, floor, furniture, banishing perspective, flattening the space, leaving the furniture as mere contours while the paintings and sculptures represented within the studio stand out. The abstract impulse fascinated postwar American artists.

The painting returns to Paris for the first time in 30 years for an exhibition bringing together all the surviving works depicted on the canvas, planned by MoMA in 2022, but slightly modified here because the Vuitton gallery is longer and narrower. It feels intensely and gloriously, like entering the painting, surrounded by the 10 objects it contains.

The installation also offers an intimate absorption in Matisse’s experiments with simplification of form between 1898: “Corsica, the Old Mill,” a violet-pink landscape of an olive farm, trees simple green clouds, trunks obscured by a light sparkling, painted in pointillist, shiny. brush strokes, still guided by impressionism, and 1911: the sculptural bust “Jeanette (IV)”, which condenses features and hair into abstract locks, dislocates the face and exudes vitality.

Some of the privately owned objects depicted in “The Red Studio” are barely known: a sensually molded, precariously balanced terracotta “Vertical Nude with Arched Back” (1906-07) has never been shown before; “Cyclamen” (1911), an abbreviated painting of a garden table against a background of roses, framed by a curtain of green leaves, has not been exhibited since 1965.

But each object here surprises because Matisse presents them very differently in “The Red Studio,” harmonizing, distorting or unraveling their formal implications. Thus he attenuates and reduces the cheerful Fauvist “Young Sailor II”, with the mask-like face, eyes, cap, jaw and sweater as a series of rhythmic curves, a composition so provocative when it was unveiled in 1906 that He pretended that his postman had painted it. But a ceramic plate decorated with a curled-up blue nude is enlarged and the image is refined into an elegant arabesque, anticipating the “Blue Nude” gouaches 40 years later.

These disjunctions are intriguing. Matisse seems so simple and effortless; This show lays bare the nuances of judgment and adjustment that he, in fact, always made.

The most prominent painting within the painting, the lavender-pink “Great Nude,” a pale, elongated figure set against swirling floral motifs, is not here; Matisse called for his destruction after his death (“A painter has no enemies as serious as his bad paintings”). Instead, Vuitton shows five studies from various collections, in blue ink, pencil, crayon and pastel, increasingly schematized and finally abandoned.

So Matisse backed away from the edge of pure abstraction in the 1910s: MoMA lends “The Azure Window” (1913), one of the subdued near-monochromes to which he came closest. Then, in 1948, almost 80 years old, he painted “Great Red Interior”: all cadmium red as bright, explosive and joyful as in “The Red Studio”, again structuring the paintings within a painting. This was Matisse’s last oil painting; Later he embarked on the decoration of the Rosary Chapel on the outskirts of Nice, bringing to fruition the combination of pictorial and real space in these two red paintings.

With “Kilometer Marker” (1949), an elegant oil and plaster arch based on a French road sign, Kelly’s exhibition begins a year later. She lived in France from 1948 to 1954 and highlights her lively commitment to French painting.

‘Red Curve in Relief’ by Ellsworth Kelly (2009) © Ellsworth Kelly Foundation/Primae/Louis Bourjac

The thin green rectangles and Matissean curved leaf shapes of “Meschers” (1951), named after a city in the Gironde, were inspired by looking at the river through the pine trees, a view reduced to the blue of the water and the sky, the pines. needle greens. The same year, light splintering on water is depicted in “Seine” as hundreds of uneven black and white cubes, an Op Art glare, and the shadows of a handrail falling over a staircase become the zigzagging “ La Combe II”, a nine-panel hinged folding screen. “If you can disconnect your mind and look at things only with your eyes, in the end everything becomes abstract,” explained the artist.

The seminal “Tableau Vert” (1952) returns to Paris, where it was painted, Kelly recalled, “days after seeing all of Monet’s great late paintings” in Giverny; Mottled teals evoke grass swaying beneath the surface of the lily pond. This was Kelly’s first monochrome; Since then he worked in blocks of color, in increasingly monumental paintings that imitate, or become, architecture or sculpture.

“Train Landscape” (1953) recalls a passing view of fields of mustard, lettuce, and spinach, but the grid format of chromatically contrasting linked panels also references Le Corbusier’s modular Unité d’habitation in Marseille, to which Kelly had made a pilgrimage. “Gate” (1959) is a pair of red aluminum panels tilted to meet like an X, like a kiss. The rotating star “Yellow Curve” (1990), installed on the floor, casts a wide yellow glow to transform an entire room. “Blue Curves” (2014) is projected into space, casting wavering shadows, but retains the flat frontality of the monochromatic painting; resonates with Matisse’s undulating “Azure Window” a century earlier.

A large room with a high ceiling, huge windows and a staircase.  The walls are painted white with a large yellow stripe on one and a red square on the other.
‘Color Panels (Red, Yellow, Green, Violet) by Ellsworth Kelly (2014) © Ellsworth Kelly Foundation/Louis Vuitton Foundation/Marc Domage

An elderly Le Corbusier, who was shown Kelly’s paintings in the 1960s, murmured that young artists have it easy, but added that “this kind of painting needs a new architecture to accompany it.” The pleasure at the Louis Vuitton Foundation is that Kelly gets that architecture. A year before his death, his last commission, in 2014, were permanent installations in the Vuitton auditorium/concert hall: the enormous monochrome “Colored Panels (Red, Yellow, Blue, Green, Violet),” which Kelly considered musical . notes that mark the asymmetrical space and the curtain of the rainbow stage “Spectrum VIII”. Kelly’s strict geometry so perfectly counters the baroque lyricism of Gehry’s building that these works seem essential to him.

On the other hand, Kelly wins and loses by proximity to Matisse. The context dramatizes well how her concerns with linear form, saturated tones, and painting evolving into architecture advance from French modernism. But in the end, bold minimalism and cerebral perceptual games cannot match Matisse’s mystery and emotional resonance.

until September 9

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