“Matisse and American Art”
through June 18

“Inspired by Matisse”
through July 29

“Janet Taylor Pickett:
The Matisse Series”

through July 2

Montclair Art Museum,
3 South Mountain Ave.

“The Circus,” from the Portfolio “Jazz,” 1947, by Henri Matisse (1869-1954). All images courtesy Monclair Art Museum.


People love Matisse.

People love Matisse and don’t even know it’s Matisse that they love.

His iconic dancing figures appear on tote bags, mugs, posters. On a recent afternoon at Raymond’s on Church Street, Matisse-inspired cutouts adorned the walls.

The Montclair Art Museum has three Matisse-flavored exhibits on display: “Matisse and American Art,” which runs through June 18; “Janet Taylor Pickett: The Matisse Series,” which runs through July 2, and “Inspired by Matisse: Selected Works from the Collection,” which runs through July 29.

So why is Henri Matisse (1869-1954) so popular?

MAM Curator Gail Stavitsky said that people respond to the harmony, beauty, purity and serenity of the artist’s work. “People want to feel good about themselves,” Stavitsky said. “They’re a respite, to restore people’s spirits.”

“Matisse and American Art” is a loan show, and includes 19 works by Matisse and 34 by American artists, from 1907 to the present day. None are from the museum’s collection.

Because all of the works had to be borrowed from other museums and private collections, the show took more than five years to put together, Stavitsky said. “It’s a long process of begging,” she said.

The other two shows are related: “I basically see this as one big show with a few consistent themes,” Stavitsky said. “How artists adapted Matisse’s subject matter: paintings of nudes, bathers, still lives, landscapes, studio interiors … Very early on artists had a sophisticated understanding of how he uses these subjects, his vibrant colors, fluid lines, simplifying forms. Very early on they were doing their own spins and interpretations. None of these American artists are actually copying Matisse. They were able to use him as a springboard to find their own means of expression.”

Some of the artists included in “Matisse and American Art” are Max Weber, Robert Motherwell, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Faith Ringgold, and Robert De Niro Sr.

“Bellagio Hotel Mural: Still Life with Reclining Nude (Study),” 1997, by Roy Lichtenstein.

The exhibit shows the progression of Matisse’s style, from his 1906 “Nude in a Wood,” an example of the “fauve” style, to his later abstracted works (the ones that adorn the tote bags). “Fauve,” Stavitsky explained, means “wild beast,” and was a term used by a critic about the bold style of Matisse and other artists’ work.

“Nude in a Wood (Nu dans la forêt; Nu assis dans le bois),” 1906, by Henri Matisse (1869-1954)

“Matisse and American Art” shows that Matisse had a reciprocal relationship with America: early collectors such as Leo and Gertrude Stein, as well as artists, appreciated him as early as 1905. Matisse also had major shows in America, and was featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1930. Catalogues of Matisse exhibits are on loan from the personal library of pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, who also owns some of Matisse’s work.

“Inspired by Matisse” includes 53 works from the museum’s collection.

“Janet Taylor Pickett: The Matisse Series” includes more than 76 collages and four handmade books by Taylor Pickett, who lived in Montclair until 2011 (she now lives in California). Included in the exhibition is the installation of “Sixty-Six Dresses: An Odyssey, 2014-2015.” The title refers to Taylor Pickett’s age when she created the works. For this show, she includes two additional collaged dresses to match her current age. Kathy Imlay, the show’s co-curator with Gail Stavitsky, had been following Taylor Pickett’s work for more than 10 years, the artist said by telephone. Stavitsky saw one of her pieces and “one thing led to another,” Taylor Pickett said.
Taylor Pickett’s work is in all three of the Matisse shows at MAM.

Formerly an art teacher at Essex County College, Taylor Pickett said, “Over the years I have had this conversation with a white European male artist, who has been an influence on generations of artists. I was always drawn to his color, use of line and shape. He became part of my visual vocabulary.”

The dress shape has been a vessel for her work for many years, Taylor Pickett said. “It goes back to the first time I had to buy a black dress,when my father died. I began to think about the symbol, metaphor of what a dress was. Then it became a vessel of memory that I could fill.”

Her work, she said, shows her “voice as a woman and an African-American and an artist.”

“Vessel Dress Still Life After Matisse,” 2013, by Janet Taylor Pickett (b. 1948)

One of the most rewarding things that has come out of the exhibition, which Taylor Pickett described as “pretty spectacular,” is to receive messages on Facebook from strangers telling her how her work has affected them. Now, people even follow her new work on her instagram account, jpickett813.

“To be alive and to hear and know that your work has affected folks that have seen it in such a positive manner is really rewarding. Not every artist gets that. Most of the time people just walk away.”

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