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15.7.05

Ionarts in Manhattan

Our last stop on the Crazy American Roadtrip before returning to Washington was the island of Manhattan. Little did we know when we planned this trip that our visit would coincide with that of Tropical Storm Cindy. The rain held off for a long walk through Central Park on Thursday night but was constant and at times heavy on Friday. A friend in Brooklyn had organized our French friend's walking tour that day, and so I took my infant daughter off for a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, while Mrs. Ionarts took our son to see the dinosaurs at the American Museum of Natural History. Both of our children are incredibly tolerant so far of visiting museums, and my daughter babbled her way through the remarkable Max Ernst retrospective, which was first on my list, and the Matisse and Fabrics exhibit, as well as some of the regular collection. In the elevator, the mother of a French family said cou-cou to my daughter and commented to her husband that she was very young to be brought to a museum. "Elle adore Max Ernst," I told her, just like her father.

Other Reviews of Ernst:

Manuela Hoelterhoff, Magic Man: Last Chance to See Surrealist Max Ernst at the Met (Bloomberg, July 1)

Lee Siegel, Odd Man Out: Max Ernst wasn't like the other surrealists (Slate, May 4)

Tyler Green, Review (Modern Art Notes, May 2)

Souren Melikian, Max Ernst, force of subversion (International Herald Tribune, April 16)

Holland Cotter, The Zelig Among the Modernists (New York Times, April 8)
Picasso and Matisse tend to dominate traditional thinking about early modern painting, but I think that the work of Max Ernst should stand with them. If Picasso represents the earth and its horned beasts, and Matisse the cool ocean detached from the land, Ernst puts us in touch with the insane outer world of phantoms that seem to be pulling the marionnette strings on this deranged little planet. He was a great intellectual painter, someone with extraordinary skill, brutal honesty, vicious humor, and a sense of art history that was in no way pedantic. Don't even mention Salvador Dalí: sure, I like his paintings, but they seem almost gimmicky by comparison to those of Ernst, at least to my eye.

Other Reviews of Matisse:

Roberta Smith, How a Renowned Painter Found Inspiration in Cloth (New York Times, June 24)

Kevin Driscoll, Weaving a New Appreciation for Matisse (OhmyNews International, July 4)

Suzy Menkes, Matisse: The fabrics of his dreams (International Herald Tribune, March 22)
Max Ernst: A Retrospective opened back on April 7, and I was literally seeing it a few days before it closed, on July 10. I was so glad that I made it, and with the galleries nearly empty, because the praise heaped on this show by all the critics whose opinions I treasure (see my list) was entirely deserved. He lived in a fascinating time, at the crossroads of the arts, involved in an interesting relationship (to say the least) with one of my favorite poets, Paul Eluard (Pleure: les larmes sont les pétales du coeur / Weep: tears are the heart's petals), and his wife Gala, who later became Dalí's wife. He became part of the surrealist movement through his friendship with André Breton and because he was also a poet. A favorite work in the show, 2 enfants sont menacés par un rossignol, from the MoMA, is based on a line from one of his own poems. Eluard owned it, and several other Ernst works, and sold it to the museum in 1937. The photographs reproduced in the show, of Ernst and his comrades in the surrealist movement, were also worth seeing.

My other stop at the Met was the much newer exhibit, Matisse: The Fabric of Dreams—His Art and His Textiles, which opened on June 23 and will continue through September 25. Every time I have tried to teach students something about art history, I have mentioned Matisse's early work with and lifelong interest in textiles (because I read something about it somewhere). However, after seeing this show, I have a much better understanding of the work, both fabrics and the paintings that go with them, which always helps to communicate ideas to others. Not only did Matisse use textiles he collected as backdrops for his models, he designed costumes and liturgical garments, too, some of which appear in the show.

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