The Metropolitan Museum of Art Strikes Back

Coming to the Metropolitan Museum of Art drew from me the experience I had when I was a freshman in high school. At that time, I went to see Roman sculptures as well as ancient Egyptian art.  However, four years later and here I am again at a class field trip to see an exhibit I never would have bothered to look at. That is the African Art and Matisse Exhibits.

What really amazed me was how the two exhibits were literally next to each other in terms of location. The African Art exhibit contained many sculptures and carvings that portrayed the human body whether alone, in couples, or families. Art was incorporated into unique objects such as spoons.

In the displays, there were multiple masks lined up next to each other. From far away they looked similar in technique and design yet upon further inspection of the carvings they were all very different at the same time. Proportions were not accurate but it was clearly the portrayal of the human face and body.

It became clear to me that African artworks are linked to the artworks by Picasso and Matisse due to the nature of Cubism and concept of abstraction. The Cubist movement used the methods in African pieces for inspiration. Cubism was also not in proportions to to the objects they were trying to represent yet there was a clear idea that a face is still a face. There are still two eyes a nose and a mouth. The only weird thing is that they do not look realistic at all.

The sculptures in African art often are created with geometric shapes and have many deep angles. The concept of abstract is presented beautifully in these sculptures and I can begin to see the elements artists like Picasso used.

The experience at the Matisse Exhibition was completely different for me. It was not about contrasting the differences and similarities between the two works but rather, Matisse created his work in pairs. He created two paintings of the same subject in an attempt to learn which technique he was more suited for. He created various perspectives by manipulating differences in seeing the same setting.


Matisse offers us a glimpse of the power of the eye and perception. There are amazing ways to convey not only imagery but information without losing out on the beauty and true meaning behind things. Because of this, it seems that creativity has been opened up to fascinating possibilities.

Overall, my visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art was a really enjoyable one because the architecture still fascinates me and its a great opportunity for anyone in New York City to open their eyes to culture of the past and present. It was a great experience to learn about African art and actually see how something so basic and primitive is in fact a big factor when it comes to affecting future artist and their concepts.

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African Art and Matisse

My idea of African art was a very basic perception of the disproportionate features of the human to their actual body size. I would remember briefly seeing heads far too small for their bodies and breasts far too large for the woman. That was merely how I remembered African art and our trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art was a great way for me to rediscover and understand the meaning behind the art. It served as an opportunity for me to realize that there is so much more to it than disproportionate subjects.

Our entrance into the exhibit led to a sharp understanding of what encompassed African art. It displayed the focus on specific features and aspects of life that made the pieces more appealing, and explained my previous perception of disproportionate body parts. Some pieces would have a strong emphasis on the teeth, by pushing out the jaw and creating a deep imprint around each individual tooth.

One piece that stood out to me was the Maiden Mask. As I previously mentioned, it too put an emphasis on the teeth and pushed out the jaw, however, there was so much more to its beauty. The elongated nose created a sleek feeling to it, adding some contemporary beauty, which appeals to the modern taste. There were essentially two main colors on the mask: beige and brown. Both match well and were used to appeal aesthetically. Though the main highlight of the Maiden Mask was on the elegant and intricately made headwear. The mask was a representation of woman, yet men wore it to dance with. The headwear held small little containers, which in my opinion stand as symbols of water containers which women used to carry on their heads (the museums text didn’t specify). It was so well made that when I reminded myself it was from a far older era, in a place with scarce resources, I was left speechless.

Credits to The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Credits to The Metropolitan Museum of Art

After the African exhibit we went directly to the Matisse exhibit. In all honesty, I have never been a fan of French art, or European paintings in general. I see people look into the subjects and I feel sometimes they look too far and misinterpret something which should just be appreciated at face value. Now that I have made my confession, it will allow me to better explain how I saw Matisse’s work. The pieces were great, not because of the subject matter, but because of the technique. I can’t even recall some of the subjects which he attempted to portray, but the way the colors were used is still fresh in my mind. It was different from other artists, because he painted each color as a dot and constantly pressed them around the painting, making it seem as a constant stroke from far. I saw the genius when he would place colors side by side to create the illusion of another color. The work was interesting to me because I truly hadn’t seen anything like it and I wondered how revolutionary it must have been for his time. Below is an example of the style which I was referring to:

Credits to The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Credits to The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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A Different Approach to Humanism

The selection of pieces in the African art exhibit of the MET seems strange. Our perception of strange, however, is subjective to the art that we have grown to appreciate. When we dream in paintings, we often visualize Baroque-style art that emphasizes each muscle, vein, and skin tone of the human body. To depict with realism, and perhaps to add a divine quality, was the norm for the multitude of artists that that created “European Paintings”, or at least, the corresponding exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

African sculptors depict the human body in a way that is radically unique.  Without focusing on the intricate details of the general human physique, they bring emphasis to the most important parts of the face. The “Sculptural Element From a Reliquary Ensemble”, as shown in the exhibit, is one of such pieces in which several facial features are dramatically depicted. With an elongated jaw, oversized forehead, and large ears that connect the disproportioned neck to the well-polished face, this piece epitomizes the stark contrast between African art and that of Europe. Unlike the people of Da Vinci’s paintings, the wood-sculpture does not convey emotion through its eyes. In fact, pupils are not even incorporated into the work, an effect that provides the eyes with a blank stare. Without an evident emotion to understand, this piece can be admired at face value and for its captivating design. It is this emphasis on geometric shapes that provided numerous 20th century artists with inspiration to create a whole new segment in art.

“Sculptural Element From a Reliquary Ensemble". Image provided by

“Sculptural Element From a Reliquary Ensemble”. Image provided by

As one of the prominent partakers of the Modern art era, Henri Matisse exhibited great reverence for African art. Taking the base idea of focusing on shapes rather than details, Matisse created “Female Torso”. Though identifiable with its inspiration, the bronze sculpture takes abstraction to a whole new level. The hands of the piece are little nubs, the head is without any facial features, the breasts are protruding, and the body is covered in indents made by the artist’s fingers. Without any hard edges or enough details to give this “torso” a specific identity, Matisse’s creation captures the essence of a woman.

A few strides down from the African art collection is an exhibit fully dedicated to Henri Matisse. Seeing the works in both exhibits draws a clear parallel between the seemingly distinct art-styles.

Matisse’s painting “Nasturtiums with the Pair Dancing” is astonishingly similar to “Female Torso”. It is possible to say that both pieces are of bodies, and but no further meaning can be derived from them. His painting shows several women, hand in hand, forming a circle. Though they are nude like his sculpture, they are painted in a bright pink color to signify that they are the main part of his painting. All parts of the body, from the dark head to the feet, are made with linear or curved strokes of the brush; creating what looks to be more like a silhouette than an actual representation of the body. Though his art does not represent reality, it has a very humanistic approach.

Matisse experimented with a few artistic styles to see which best brought attention to his human subjects. The MET’s exhibit, entitled Matisse: In Search of True Painting, conveniently showed his various attempts at creating the right depiction. Stationed along one wall, his three works entitled “Le Luxe” all portrayed the same scene with three different mediums and techniques. The first, oil on canvas painting, was vibrant with various colors and shades. The water in the backdrop appeared to vary in depth and the sky had distinct hues of blues and purples. The main subject in the foreground had clear facial features and well-defined fingers. Moving away from realism and into a more abstract area, Matisse used fewer colors in the second painting. This time using distemper, he made the background less eye-catching and the subjects more intriguing. Though possessing fewer contours, his subjects stood out like marble statues against a pale backdrop. Matisse took his modern approach even further in his third picture, this time, making it out of charcoal. Evidently using cubist techniques, he altered the bodies of his subjects to look more like geometrical shapes than flesh and skin. Remarkably, he was able to recreate the style of African art on his final attempt. Standing in the foreground, his main subject had a long, thick neck and dark eyes without pupils.


The three paintings of “Le Luxe”. Image provided by

Modernism, an artistic movement that dominates the contemporary world, found its root in an art form that was seldom noticed in the past.

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IMG_0630 IMG_0631I must confess I had never been to the Metropolitan Museum, although I have heard of its diverse array of exhibits and pieces. I was absolutely floored just walking through the Roman and Greek exhibit to get to the African art exhibit. I liked how the different pieces in the African exhibit were totally handcrafted objects. The nicks and imperfections could be seen in the wood of which they were made. The African art, although ancient, looked very modern. It seemed to be the basis on which many of the abstract artists modeled their own work, including Pablo Picasso.

I chose to focus on two pieces in this section. The first appeared to be a brass head turned on its side. The abstract facial features and slender nose gave it the appearance of some modern creation. The second piece of art was a drawing that looked to be in blue crayon, but of course wasn’t, of a person. It is so basic, it is impossible to tell its gender or race. The eyes and the nose function as one line, and only the lips are colored in. The left ear is drawn, but the right ear is totally and conspicuously absent. The arms and legs are unable to be seen. The entire piece gives its viewer a semblance of modern art. No loner is it important to depict things as these seem, but rather as they feel. Feelings are a higher power of that which is concrete.

In transitioning to the Matisse section, I didn’t see what I expected. There were pairs and trios of paintings that looked almost identical, yet with a few changes. Colors and lines changed, giving each painting a different “look” or tone. It was fascinating to observe. The influence of the African art on Matisse was a little difficult to see. However, there were hints here and there. On one painting there were many simplistic brush strokes that reminded me of the African drawing I saw.


The connections between the African art movement and the Modernist movement are surely strong. Pablo Picasso’s very shapes and diagrammatical painting and drawings as well as Matisse’s subtle changes all mirrored the African art exhibit.


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Before seeing the African Art Exhibit at the MET Museum, I believed that African Art was basic, and even casual. Because their sculptures seem to be realistic for the most part, I did not think that it required creativity. That is until I understood the composition of each piece.

Analyzing one of the pieces in the exhibit, I learned that African Art was based on geometry. It amazed me that this type of art would be able to influence artists from the 19th and 20th century. For example, Henri Matisse created Female Torso in 1906 with distinct elements from African Art. The sculpture can easily be divided in half, which represents the balance that African artworks have. Also, the proportion of the piece gives off an elegant, yet realistic vibe. Created from bronze, Female Torso also shines under the spotlight. The luminosity of this piece labels it as perfection, yet realistic.

Female Torso, Henri Matisse

African Art tends to replicate human’s physical features and adds a touch of perfection to it. I did not consider this technique prominent in modern art until I saw how paintings from notable artists, such as Picasso, were juxtaposed to African Art. Recognizing the resemblance of the composition of African Art in one of Picasso’s painting made me realize how African Art had already left an impact on famous pieces. Cubism, a style of art that Picasso used, has many features that can relate to African art. Although they tend to be abstract, the geometric composition allows for a unique balance in each piece.

Walking around in the Matisse Exhibition was a different experience in that it focused on the contrasts between his artworks. Throughout the room, there are often two to three pieces that Matisse created with the same subject. Although the setting and objects are alike, each piece emphasizes on different elements of art. Through his pieces, he portrays various perspectives of the same setting. In Still Life with Compote and Fruit and Still life with Compote, apples, and Oranges, he manipulates the lighting to showcase a different environment in his paintings. Although alike in many aspects, these two pieces bring two contrasting vibes. One being bright and blissful while the other one is gloomy. Many of Matisse’s other artworks give the audience many perspectives of the same objects.

Still Life with Compote and Fruit, Henri Matisse

Still Life with Compote, Apples, and Oranges, Henri Matisse

These two exhibits portray how artists have varying perceptions of art. Many well-known artists such as Picasso and Matisse look into African Art for inspiration. However, in their creations, they include their own touch, or in Matisse’s case, multiple versions. In the end, artists have their own style of painting and sculpting that leaves lasting impressions on other artists.

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Paying a visit to the Metropolitan Museum

It was gratifying to revisit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where I used to go often for an intensive drawing class shadowing Van Gogh’s art. However, it wasn’t to see that, I had a class field trip to see the African Art Exhibit and the Matisse Exhibit.

What shocked me the most after paying a visit to these two areas in the MET was that they were actually linked. African Art usually consisted of sculptures and carvings in portrayal of the human body. Multiple masks are lined up on display. Each similarly carved yet so different and unique at the same time.

It wasn’t so clear to me that African artworks are associated to the artworks by Picasso and Matisse, until I was told the Cubism movement looked back to African pieces in inspiration. Then I was able to see how the two vastly different time periods were in fact really alike.

The sculptures in African art often are created in geometric shapes and have most 90-degree angles. The abstractness in the sculptures also appeared very alike to Picasso’s famous creations.

It was an entirely different experience at the Matisse Exhibition. It wasn’t about comparing the similarities between the arts of two artists. Matisse actually created artworks in pairs – two differently composed paintings of the same subject. Matisse wanted to learn what technique better fits him. He portrays various perspectives by manipulating the same setting.

As one can observe the clear differences between the techniques used in creating an image of the subject, Matisse showed how either method and many more can recreate a scene in a beautiful manner.

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The Power of Influence in Two Met Exhibits

African Art, New York, and The Avant-Garde
“My little brother could sculpt something better” says a Met visitor, after their first time seeing African art in person. It is a common misconception to think that African art is primitive. However, the use of over-exaggerated proportions and geometric shapes that deviate from the organic curves found in nature and in the body are characteristic of a sophisticated style. Modern art forms, such as cubism and expressionism, have emerged, drawing from these elements which are particularly found in African sculpture from Kota, Igbo and Fang artists. The exhibit featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, entitled African Art, New York and the Avant-Garde, intends to demonstrate just that.

The exhibit, a condensed space displaying mostly sculptures, is predominantly African art. Next to many of the African pieces (or somewhere in the vicinity), there is a Modern Art piece and descriptions to highlight the similarities, but the modern works selected did not contain enough visual evidence to demonstrate the influence. The description cards for most pieces described how theparticular piece was a muse for late 19th and 20th century art, but there was too much “tell” and not enough “show.” Visual examples, like cubism pieces, would have conveyed this theme in a more coherent—and interesting—manner.

Although the exhibit lacked a strong theme, the individual pieces were quite beautiful and their descriptions offered an insight into their respective cultures. A mask piece captures a sophistication in its composition: bulbous oval eyes, a wide triangular nose and curvaceous lips carved out of wood are typical of the geometric style that was often embraced by this culture. The mask adjacent to it has contrasting proportions: a narrowjaw line, two slits for eyes, a skinny cylindrical nose and a mouth in the shape of a small “o”. The masks somewhat resemble caricatures, and are mostly made of wood. What is especially fascinating is the fact that the different regions produce their own unique portrayals of facial features, yet the theme of the geometric style can be identified in probably all African masks. One piece, entitled Mask (Kpeliye’e), which according to the description, is a “delicate, feminine representation that honors deceased Senufo elders,” has an array of textures created by etched lines. Environmental influence is present, especially in the goat horns on its head and the small, exposed teeth.

Matisse: In Search of True Painting
The Metropolitan Museum of Art features another exhibit emphasizing style: the well-known fauvism painter, Henri Matisse struggles to find his artistic voice. This space is significantly larger than the African Art space, and palpably more crowded. It is plain to see why: the comparisons here are much more successful in threading together a common theme because it shows several versions of the same painting side by side. This exhibit was much more interesting and enlightening because it shows his process; each version, although portraying the same subject, demonstrates how different styles create such varied experiences.

A wall on the right upon entering displays a panoply of four small paintings, all of a bowl of fruit. On the far left, Matisse dips into pointillism, a painting style that is achieved by marking thousands of small colored dots of paint on the page. Darker, condensed dots create shadowsandlighter, spaced dots create the illusion of highlights. The dots form together to create the bigger picture. Another bowl of fruit painting in the series is an experimentation with impressionism, as he uses thick blotches of paint to bring out the strokes and variety of color. Entitled Still Life With Compote, Apples and oranges (1899), this piece was painted with bright, saturated colors and many vibrant strokes full of motion. Although oil paints were used, the consistency makes it look as if it were drawn with oil pastels. The lines seem to move in all different directions, giving it a sense of urgency or chaos. This tone is strikingly different from the piece next to it, again of the same subject. It is unfinished: Matisse leaves a part of the canvas naked, with exposed pencil markings. Other works in the exhibit follow this practice of ‘unfinished canvas,’ which offers yet another look into the artist’s process and decision to keep moving on to create new works, and not going back to finish the others. Because Matisse has embraced so many different styles, he was accused of ‘copying’ his counterparts like Van Gogh and Monet. He was inspired by these artists as well as Cezanne,

Young Sailor I and Young Sailor II are two versions of the same subject, and again, are quite different. While the latter resembles a pop art style with ‘paper cut-out’ bright blocks of color, the former is a painterly piece with heavy outlines, a sense of depth and a more diverse palette. Interestingly enough, both the body language and facial expressions differ in each version: the former features a young man in deep thought, with relaxed limbs and an air of confidence. An up-tight pose, bright eyes and a simple palette are qualities of the other version. The pencil markings make quite a presence in Young Sailor I, underneath a thin layer of paint with some spots of bare canvas.  Both pieces were made in 1906. Young Sailor II has slight indications that Matisse might have been inspired by the African Masks: The boys face is not proportional, but instead characterized by geometric facial features and is painted in a way that creates a directional line texture, which is found in a lot of the masks.

Why is the exhibit called In Search of True Painitng? The exhibit does a flawless job in displaying that this artist had a desire to document the stages of his work and try on different methods. In other words, he constantly compared his works to see if he advanced or regressed. He left pieces unfinished because he intended to use them as a reference point. The entire exhibit maps out his quest to find his visual personality as an artist through the process, not the product.


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Influence and Experimentation

The two exhibits we explored in the Metropolitan Museum of Art were the “African Influences in Modern Art” and “Matisse: In Search of True Painitng”.  Each exhibit was interesting in that the African one was small, but provided a plethora of details to analyze in each influenced work, while the Matisse exhibit could be seen as a progression of his life and working techniques.


The “African Influences in Modern Art” exhibit blended modernism with historical technique, which was probably what artists influenced by African art were striving for. One piece in particular that drew my attention was a wood carving of a mask (unknown artist). The many features of this mask allow it to be seen as a modern interpretation of ancient African art. Most ancient African masks were focused on specific portions of the face, and it can be seen in this one that the nose and lips are much larger than those of an average person, and the forehead comes down good amount more. The wood finishing is also a prime example of influence from African masks, with smoothness in certain areas and a grained texture on the sides. This piece is clearly a modern artist’s interpretation of older works of art.


Another piece that caught my attention was Diego Rivera’s “The Café Terrace”. This oil on canvas piece was clearly influenced by African abstract art. The various colors long with sharp but unrecognizable shapes attest to this. Moreover, the color gradients and choices are also reminiscent of Africa works. One can distinguish certain figures, such as a spoon, the bottom of a table, and a woman’s dress, but the rest is open to interpretation, just like older abstract works. Other modern artists such as Picasso were also influenced by these techniques, color schemes, and textures. Rivera’s work, according to the description adjacent to the work, was at one point placed alongside three African works that were woodcarvings. One can see, through the sharp lines and the fact that some aspects are more prominent that there is a certain amount of influence on Rivera’s work.


While Henri Matisse was influenced by African art during a period of his life, he viewed art as a progression and experiment. He would test different effects and then place them side-by-side in order to compare them. It is almost like writing in the sense that there were many rough drafts before the final piece was accepted. Matisse also liked to paint in pairs and trios in order to gauge how different focuses and techniques could alter the perception of a work. One example of this would be his painting of fruit pairs. He changed the colors around, making different parts of the painting brighter, in order to test how that alters the focus of the work. Even though the fruits were the main focus in the first one, as he made the parts around the fruit brighter and higher definition, the perception of the picture changed. Instead of viewing the work from the fruits out, one would see it from the surroundings in. I found this to be fascinating. He also used a similar technique in a trio: “Gulf of St Tropez “Luxe”, “Calme”, and “Et Volupte.” Each painting reflected a different mood, and he conveyed this by creating different textures. Some were smooth strokes, while others were made whole by combining many short strokes (almost presenting a Van Gogh like effect). Each painting, though having the same subject matter, completely changed meaning because of the technique used in it.


Matisse was also able to show progression through color and definition. In his works “Le Luxe” (1, 2, and 3), he depicts three nude women standing on what seems to be a field. However, as one views each picture, they progressively become sharper.  The lines become straighter, and each object in the background can be seen more clearly. However, the one concept that does not escape the eyes is that he takes away color as well. So we go from colored and blurry to sharp and black and white. He almost progresses backwards in order to get to the most basic version of picture, as if to un-cloud the judgment of a viewer, and convey the work as it was supposed to be.


African art has influenced many prominent artists, such as Matisse and Picasso. The sharp lines, bright colors, and abstract shapes are all derived from an ancient culture, modernized by interpretation. People continue to be intrigued by the message African art conveys, and artists have done their best to recreate that sense of inquisitiveness. Matisse was also, through his progressive work, able to incorporate many of these techniques.


Matisse and Africa’s influences provide exhibits worth viewing again and again.

Painting Credit: Diego Rivera
Courtesy of MET

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In Search of Meaningful Themes

The Metropolitan Museum of Art features many exhibits, but our trip focused on the African Art exhibit and the Matisse exhibit called In Search of True Painting. Both exhibits displayed different forms of art and were unique in their own way. Though each exhibition had its ups and downs, both of them managed to provoke deep thought about relating different aspects of art.

The focus of our visit to the African Art exhibit was on one room that linked the African Art to the avant-garde artists of the 20th century. Much of the African art that was on display in that room was very geometric. Faces were distorted and artists had creative license to display figures in any way they wanted. They took this liberty and distorted people – making eyes bigger, extending torsos and shortening legs. Many of the features on the sculptures such as the eyes or the nose could be broken down into geometric shapes, resulting in a very symmetrical image. This style influenced cubism, a style that well-known artists such as Picasso were famous for. Avant-garde artists like Picasso or Matisse were influenced by the geometry and symmetry that many of the African sculptures and masks had. They evolved on this style and made their own successful work.

Although realizing the link between African art and modern art was interesting, the exhibit itself was dull. The room that linked the past and present was too small and I would have liked to see more connections through more pieces of work. Seeing more work by the 20th century avant-garde artists displayed next to the African art would have made it a lot easier to see the connections the exhibit was trying to bring out. I think that would have added to the power of the exhibit.

In Search of True Painting specialized on Matisse and his search for a style. In his early career, he would paint the same still life two or three times using different techniques, looking for the one that fit him best. In his later career, he moved on to painting series such as “The Dream.” It took him nine months to paint the same image numerous times. His still lives like “Yellow Curtain, Anemones and Fruit” were very ordinary, no matter what style he painted in. It was always the same image and didn’t pull me in like art should. One that did interest me however, was “Large Cliff-Eel” and “Large Cliff-Two Rays.” What I found interesting was that although the background was similar, the different animals created a different feel for the painting and I enjoyed the slight change.

A couple selections from Matisse’s series “The Dream”

Wall text said that the African art and its geometry influenced Matisse. But in this exhibit, I could not see influence. Matisse’s paintings were dotted, made by many dots of paint on the page. Other styles involved a very flowing and shadowed style, and his black and white drafts of paintings. None of his work was very geometrical or distorted so I did not see the African influence. However, this was a thought-provoking exhibit because as I walked through, I tried to discover his style. In trying to find a style, he made his own. He created multiple images of the same painting in different styles. It is an art technique that is unique to him, and it works well for the still lives he does. The different styles for still lives attempt to add spice and variance to an otherwise dull subject.

While both exhibits did not fully interest me, I found their themes intriguing. I found the African exhibit to be too small and did not have enough sculptures and paintings to fully bring out the power of the connection between past and present. The Matisse exhibit was boring because his paintings all looked the same. The still lives were the same fruit and vases over and over again. Even the different styles could not capture my attention. But the themes that the exhibits brought out were well constructed. Connecting African art to popular avant-garde creations such as cubism through geometry was an eye-opening theme that I had never thought about before. Seeing Matisse struggle to find a style while making his own was fascinating, especially seeing all the times he repainted something. And while the art was not memorable, the themes will remain strong because of how well they were created.

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Under-Appreciated African art and Metaphysical Matisse

I have been many to the Metropolitan Museum many times in my life before.  It is an enormous museum with many collections.  But I never really zoomed in one aspect of the MET’s many works of art.  Because of our IDC class, we got to focus on two: The 100th anniversary of the African Art exhibit and the Matisse display.

I have to say that the African Art show was a disappointment.  In our class, Professor Bernstein talked about how important this expo was.  It radically changed how artists used to do paintings or other works of art.  With such high expectation I walked into the MET museum.  What I got instead was a little exhibition space.  That has to be the fault of the MET.  They are the ones who decide how everything is set up.  Such an influential group of works needed a larger venue where people can come and appreciate them without being crammed in like a clown car.

But if you looked at the individual pieces, they were amazing.  The woodwork done was amazing.  The sculptures were symmetrical and each had its own characteristic to it.  For example, “Sculptural Element from a Reliquary Ensemble: Head” looks like a bland piece from the straight.  If you were to look at it from the side, you would see a different view.  The chin and jaw are elongated.  The ears are very circular.  I believe that this is the first time modern artists saw that not everything has to be straight and perfect.  Shapes and geometry could be used.  As a result, many artists incorporated these ideas into their work.

As we went inside the Matisse exhibit, it was a stark contrast.  By reading the captions, it showed how Matisse painted everything in pairs or triplets in the beginning in his career.  When I first saw this.  I thought that he might have Over Compulsive Disorder.  But I kept in mind the point of this exhibit: “In Search of True Painting.” It seemed strange at first why the curator called it this.

The first painting that hit me was that of “Le Luxe.”  Matisse painted three versions of this masterpiece.  Each version was different.  Going from left to right, you can see that there is an inverse relationship between color and definition.  The clearest picture was that done by pencil.

After a while, it seemed that Matisse didn’t like to keep painting the same image.  This was the case with “Apples”. This pair was completely different from each other.  First, the background in one was green.  It provides a sort of cool color.  The other painting had a powerful red background.  It represents a hot color.  The angles at which the two were painted are different.  In the former, you see the legs of the chair.  While in the latter, there are no legs. It indicates a different point of view


Honestly, I believe the theme of the exhibit represents an idea that is metaphysical.  How can one person judge which is the “true” or not?  By giving such an idea, the curator was trying to express that there is no such thing.  Matisse it seems realized this after a while and that is why he paints the pairs and triplets of the same work.  Maybe out of one of them, it would really speak to us.

Or on a more cynical note, maybe it was good marketing plan by the museum to get people to go all the way to the end and then to be hit with the gift shop.


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MET Exhibit: Seeing the Abstract as the Norm

The Metropolitan Museum of Art boasts some of the greatest art exhibits in New York City.  The museum’s vast size and structure makes it virtually impossible to see all of the exhibits in one day.  Just last Thursday, I went to the museum to see two particular exhibits:  African Art and Matisse: In Search of True Painting.  While very different from each other, both of these exhibits proved to be rather compelling.

While exploring the African Art exhibit, one piece of art immediately grabbed my attention.  I could not exactly decipher what the artist was trying to portray in his sketch, so it made me curiously stop and read the description.  The piece of art, known as “Seated Man Reading a Newspaper” was painted by the great European artist, Pablo Picasso.  It turns out that Picasso was influenced heavily by African Art and looked for ways to incorporate it into his style of European Art.  What struck me most about this work was the abstract nature of it.  The various geometric shapes and shadings give each viewer the ability to interpret it differently from the next.  But more importantly, it shows the significant impact that African Art had on many big name artists, like Picasso.

Seated Man Reading a Newspaper

At the time it was introduced, Negro Art was revolutionary.  It went against all the conventional methods of trying to depict everything according to scale.  The “Seated Man Holding a Vessel,” created by an unknown artist, epitomizes the idiosyncratic nature of this genre of art.  I really enjoyed this sculpture because of its unconventional features: from the large forehead, to the chinless head, all the way down to the narrow torso.  At times, part of being human is viewing things from radically different perspectives. By stepping outside of the norms (in this case European Art), we can ultimately appreciate the peculiar things of life, such as this early, 20th century wooden sculpture.

Seated Male Holding Vessel

After spending some time in the African Art exhibit, I moved onto Matisse: In Search of True Painting.  What I found interesting about Matisse is that he has an image in mind and recreates it over and over using a plethora of techniques.  Instead of calling the original works “drafts,” he values all of them equally in his quest for “True Painting.”  According to the first description on the wall, he valued the journey of reaching his finished product to be just as important as the final painting itself.   I think that’s important for him to recognize because we often just seek a destination, rather than the journey that accompanies it.

Although most of his work is done in doubles or triples, there is one particular scene that he recreates 15 times.  The scene is a woman with a variety of patterns on her clothing, duplicated until perfection was reached.  All 15 copies are hanging along one wall with the final, colored masterpiece in the center.  We know that as a painter, Matisse was lost and trying to discover who he truly was.  As his career progressed, he created more copies of the same work.  Just as many elderly people do, Matisse could have been trying to rekindle the greatness that once burned during the earlier years of his life.

The Dream
Photo Credit: Stan Honda / AFP

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Avant-Garde and Matisse

Going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art at night was a very different experience. Compare to the rushing crowds going back and forth in the morning, the soothing atmosphere created by the empty museum was, at least in my opinion, more suitable for art viewing—somehow you are willing to stay longer in front of each piece. So although this might sound weird, I was actually glad that my schedule conflict allowed me to go to the MET on my own. I visited the African Art and Matisse section. Let’s start with the African Art.

There was a section named “The Avant Grade”, and the title caught my eyes. I went online

and searched for this term. It was in French. Wikipedia said “it is a French term used in English as a noun or adjective to refer to people or works that are experimental or innovative, particularly with respect to art, culture, and politics”. At the first glance, I didn’t find it different from the rest of the room. How was this supposed to be “innovative”? Then, I realized that it was an art served to provoke others. Picasso was one of these artists that were influenced by these cultural pieces! Then I looked at them again. This time, I could definitely see the similarities.

African Arts were known for their abstract figures. The art-form proportion varied from the real life proportion; and the faces of figures were always exaggerated with parts being altered. I had never figured out why African Art developed into such a pattern, but it was obviously very distinctive, especially when compared to European arts at the time, which could be one reason that people resisted this culture. There were a series of names that started with “Seated Man”, two were African pieces and one was a pencil drawing by Picasso.

It was easy to notice the identical scale of the head and body, which was not presented in history until then. With the knowledge that Picasso became famous long before his death, this became a marker in history pointing the shift of people’s willingness to accept and include others.

Another exhibit I visited was the Matisse. It gave me a different chill from the Avant-Garde. The sharp contrast between colors and various styles used to interpret the same view were something nowhere to be found in my previous exhibit. The most amazing part of this was perhaps the numerous interpretations of one single view. The doted style told the shift of colors and strengthened the contrast in between; the plain oil style gave a realistic twist to the painting; a warmer series of color created a mood that couldn’t be seen in a colder

color series. All these angles showed that each time Matisse painted a similar image—he gave a new twist to it. Unlike most artists, he allowed the addition of new frames, even if that would ruin his previous visions. Not only did he allow it, he also admired it. He asked a photographer to document his process of creation, in which one could see the transition of the painting. I didn’t know that the same view meant so many different images to different people (or the same person with different interpretation) until Matisse juxtaposed his visions in front of me. Thank you so much, for allowing me to step into your world of imagination and share a piece of your mind.

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Art From Around The Globe

This past trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art went better than I expected. Something happened that I wasn’t sure would happen; I was interested.

We began our journey into the African Art exhibit. It was amazing abstract art in the exhibit. Apparently African art was unknown to many artists until an exhibit was showcased in the early 1900’s. Then the interest in African Art exploded. In African Art, people aren’t always people. Sometimes they are spoon-like figures. Sometimes they are deformed. Sometimes they are creepy. In my opinion, the creepy ones were the best. Now after the exhibit in the early 1900’s, African abstract art began to influence more modern artists like the famous Pablo Picasso.

I had two favorite pieces from the African exhibit. The first was this piece.

Unidentified Fang artist (Betsi group); Lower Ogooué River Valley, Gabon, Sculptural Element from a Reliquary Ensemble: Head, before 1915, Wood, brass, resin, oil, H. 27 cm, Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950 (1950-134-202), © Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Honestly, it’s pretty scary and I like it. The wide jaw and hairline lead me to believe that it is of a man. Now onto the creepy parts. The eyes are big, glossy, and black. They give off a sense of being spaced out. I am not exactly sure. The forehead is large but the part that stands out the most is the jaw. The teeth are thin, long, and spaced out. The lips are pursed, almost as to kiss someone/something. Then the neck is thin and long, disproportionate to the rest of the head. And that’s another thing, the piece is just a head. Maybe the eyes have the spaced out look because the person is dead. Maybe there are no pupils because then it would look too alive. It is very interesting and like I said before, it freaks me out; which is awesome.

The second piece that I found interesting and creepy was this one.

This one is called the Maiden Mask. I would assume from the word ‘maiden,’ it is a woman’s mask. Supposedly, these masks were used in some kind of African performances. Which would lead me to believe that people would put this on their faces, which is obvious because of the word ‘mask.’ It is a cool piece, and the elongated face, small beady eyes, sharp teeth, and big mask freak me out. I like this one the best.

After the African exhibit, we visited the Matisse—In Search of True Painting. Matisse also had abstract tendencies, but they did not seem to have African influence. However, if we say that all ‘modern’ art can trace it’s roots to African Art, then maybe Matisse was influenced by the Africans.

Matisse had painted doubles and triples of most of his work. He seemed to be in search of the painter that he was. He was just conflicted. He used different styles, colors, and techniques to create different works of art from the same subject. He did a triplet of Notre Dame. They were all similar, but all different. Here is one of the triplets.

During his later life, Matisse delved into more and more attempts at the same work. He went from doubles and triples to painting the same subject around 15 times. So I guess instead of finding himself as an artist, Matisse got more lost in himself. Either that, or his ‘true’ painting was his love to see the same work differently. He was a confusing man.


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Bending Reality, Art That Changes Our Perspectives

In the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a plethora of arts from various eras and all over the world can be seen. The first exhibited we visited was a little room section within African Arts. In particular, African art was relatively unknown in the late 1800s. That changed after a showcase of African arts in 1914. Struck by the unique characteristics of African art such as the wooden figures’ abstract representations and distorted shapes, great artistic leaders in American and Europe became enamored by them and eventually incorporated some of the African arts’ styles into their own works.

One of the African arts that seemed to influence modern art was a wooden figure by an unidentified Fang artist (Ntumu group) titled “Figure from a Reliquary Ensemble: Seated Male Holding Vessel.” This wood sculpture was made of wood, brass or copper and was in a seating position holding a bowl-like object. Its shape was peculiar and parts appeared to be distorted. It didn’t have a chin; instead, that area was flat while the lips were carved on the area where the chin would be. The way its eyes were carved, without pupils made it seem like it was staring into empty space. The form of its body was almost abstract in that its neck was the same size, and shape, as its body, making the figure appeared to have an extended body while its legs were relatively short. One other thing that sparked interest to American and European artists might be African art’s open exhibitionism in their sculptures. The figure was naked but that didn’t make it feel out of place.

Seated Male Holding Vessel. Photo credits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art

The abstract and distorted nature of African art was profoundly present in Pablo Picasso’s art titled “Seated Man Reading a Newspaper.” Aside from the title, Picasso’s drawing looked nothing like the sculpture I mentioned above, “Seated Male Holding Vessel.” In fact, it didn’t look like a man sitting and reading a newspaper at all. The drawing was composed of many rectangular shapes and shading where the viewers could somewhat make out a person and perhaps a newspaper as indicated by a large blank rectangular space in the center. That was precisely the point. The Seated Man in Picasso’s work was very abstract; it had its features distorted, indicating a strong resemblance to how African arts were made. Through this, art was no longer rigid and focused on resembling reality. Modern art took on a more abstract perspective, hence, welcoming the possibilities of art in vastly different forms.

Seated Man Reading a Newspaper. Photo credits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Moving on from the African Art section while keeping in mind its influences, we arrived at the gallery, Matisse – In Search of True Painting. The paintings in the gallery were placed chronologically. One of the first paintings that caught my eye after I entered the gallery was Henri Matisse’s Still Life with Purro II (1904-5) painting. Shapes of objects such as shapes of bottles, fruits, and towel seemed to have blended in with the background because so many colorful dots were used to color the painting. It was certainly a very abstract way to paint and portray still life. Next to it was a clearer (shapes more visible) version painted in 1904 titled Still Life with Purro I. As the title indicated, Still Life with Purro I was painted before Still Life with Purro II. The first, however, was not as bright and vivid as the second even though it gave form to the objects much better. The impact just wasn’t the same. The first had a darker, gloomier atmosphere while the second was lively and seemed to be full of motion.

Still Life with Purro II (Left), Still Life with Purro I (Right). Photo credits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It wasn’t a surprised then to see the same style used in another painting called Luxe, calme, et volupté (1904). This painting showed seven ladies picnicking near the shore—some were completely exposed. The element of unrestricted nudity seemed to be influenced by African art. Luxe, calme, et volupté was just one of the many.

Walking further, a pattern seemed to emerge from the layout of the gallery. The gallery purposely showed multiple paintings of the same thing but in different styles to indicate Matisse’s “search” for the true form of painting. Towards the end of the exhibit, the painting with the most variations was probably The Dream (1940). Within nine months, Matisse drew and painted over ten images very abstractly with curvy lines and non-solid shapes. He was meticulously trying to figure out what form or style was the ideal one—the true painting. He explored many templates and styles, changing the shape of the person and her hair, curving the table, turning the angle, playing with the position of the person, and varying the designs on the clothing. Through this process, to Matisse, the true painting seemed to be less rigid like reality and freer like abstractions. Matisse’s final product, The Dream, revealed this through the curvy and disproportional arms, and the slanted table that appeared to tilt downwards. Perhaps, like the title of the painting The Dream, the true painting was one that is can bend reality and curve our perspectives so that a new way of viewing the same thing could be found.

The Dream (Left), Reprint of archival photograph documenting Henri Matisse’s process of painting The Dream (Right). Photo credits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Critics’ Corner

Writing encourages us to process what we have encountered, to articulate global impressions or break them down into more analytical components. Here in the Critics’ Corner, we respond in writing to events and excursions.

Feel free to express your own point-of-view, but back it up with details — especially visual ones — that support your opinions.

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