By DJ Nelson, Staff Writer
A visit to the museum is an experience that can open the mind to cultures, a different era in time, or perhaps an emotion that only you can feel; a sort of connection if you will. The moment I experienced all three was during the last week of my study abroad program, when I stood in front of Guernica by Pablo Picasso in the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid, Spain. I had spent my morning on an excursion outside the city and returned in time to take advantage of the 30 minutes of free admissions before closing time. It is the only time I entered a museum and saw just one painting.
Picasso is native to Malaga, Spain and moved to Paris to transcend his art career. This is where the competition and friendship sparked between Picasso and Henri Matisse in the early 20th century. Both artists are regarded for transforming modern art. Matisse was born in a northern district of French Flanders and moved to Paris to study law, but spent most of his free time creating art. The French artist is best known for “fauves,” also known as “wild beasts.”
The more curious set of works by Matisse are the collections based on the Yup’ik group, the indigenous or the aboriginal natives to regions in Alaska and parts of Russia. These pieces stray away from the vibrant and colorful works he is traditionally known for: “Largely unknown to the general public, however, are his striking black-and-white portraits of Inuit people that were inspired, in part, by a group of Yup’ik (Alaskan Natives) masks collected by his son-in-law Georges Duthuit.” – per the Heard Museums’ anecdotes on their current exhibit. Matisse had never actually spent time with this group in Alaska, nor had his son-in-law, so what began this string of Yup’ik portraits?
Turns out Duthuit is a poet as well as a collector, and Matisse’s daughter Marguerite had requested that her father create illustrations to accompany her husband’s poems. He did not stop with the three works for the book of poems, and curiously continued to produce nearly 50 portraits and sketches. Perhaps we can bring this back to his connection with Picasso, who had famously used the African tribal masks in his work. Was Matisse creating these pieces due to the rivalry with his friend Picasso, or was it just an itch to stray away from his traditional methods?
[ The Heard Museum of Phoenix, Arizona is the sole venue to curate this unique Matisse exhibit, Yua: Henri Matisse and the Inner Arctic Spirit. The masks that Matisse saw and used for inspiration for the portraits are on display together in the special exhibit. This Friday, February 1st, the museum offers free admission from 6 to 10 pm in celebration of the cities First Friday events. To see the special exhibit, there is an admission fee of $7. ]