NEA Arts Magazine

Taking Another Look

Dallas Museum of Art's Matisse: Painter as Sculptor


 Sculpture of a thin nude woman leaning against a post

Henri Matisse's sculpture The Serpentine, 1909, was featured in the Dallas Museum of Art's exhibition Matisse: Painter as Sculptor. Image courtesy of the Baltimore Museum of Art, gift of a group of friends. © Succession H. Matisse, Paris/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Since 1930, the Dallas Museum of Art has evolved from an art association specializing in Texan art to an internationally renowned museum with a comprehensive collection boasting more than 20,000 art objects spanning 5,000 years. Recently, with support from the NEA, the museum took on another transformational challenge: broadening the perception of painter Henri Matisse to include his prodigious talent as a sculptor. In partnership with the Baltimore Museum of Art, the museum presented the touring exhibit Matisse: Painter as Sculptor. As curator Heather MacDonald explained, however, this wasn't the same old Matisse. "[This exhibit] was showing Matisse in context of his painting and drawing . . . but also bringing his work into conversation with painting, sculpture, and drawings by some of his contemporaries who greatly influenced him and who he greatly influenced. It had been more than 20 years since there'd been a major exhibit of Matisse sculpture. It's the area of his work least known, least reproduced."

Behind the scenes, the exhibit included a long-term study project by a curator and sculptor conservator who did intensive research on the artist's methods. MacDonald noted that their results were incorporated into the exhibit's educational modules. "We had two different computer-based interpretive displays. There was one interactive computer component on view that allowed you to take a couple of different sculptures and manipulate them threedimensionally. We also had a really terriffc short computer animated video program describing [Matisse's] lost-wax capture process in an intuitive, clear, easy way." Th e educational materials also included an audio tour, Web-accessible interpretive materials, and a fully illustrated catalog.

One especially striking companion project involved high school students. "We commissioned a New York-based choreographer . . . and she worked with students at the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing Arts. She choreographed an original movement piece based on Matisse's sculpture, exploring several different works on view in the exhibition. The students then performed the work two evenings at the museum."

In Dallas from January-April 2007, Matisse: Painter as Sculptor also included work by Alberto Giacometti, Auguste Rodin, and Pablo Picasso, among others. The exhibit then traveled to the Baltimore Museum of Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, exposing more than 500,000 individuals overall to this new view of Matisse.

MacDonald credits the NEA with helping to make the show a success. "The scope and ambition of this project, in terms of archival, technical, and interpretive components, all of that would have been difficult without that kind of support early in the process. It was important to have the imprimatur of the NEA. It carries a weight and showed the intellectual seriousness of what we wanted to do."