Jeffrey Weiss’s Artforum article on the implications of forensic analysis of paintings has me stoked to see “Radical Invention,” Stephanie d’Alessandro and John Elderfield’s incredible-sounding exhibition of experimental Matisse in the 1910s.
Weiss calls out the potential trap of uncritically trusting or reading too much into previously unavailable x-ray analysis: seeing every technical detail of a painting’s construction and material “compels us to take process for truth,” and to “conclude that the temporality of change itself represents the very content of the work.” It’s not what it is, or even what we see, that matters, but the making of.
“Radical Invention” carefully argues for the importance of Matisse’s modernist use of series, which complements Weiss’s own study of how Matisse used photography:
Much later, beginning in 1935…Matisse–or his studio assistant and model Lydia Delectorskaya–photographed works in progress with a handheld Kodak, producing a proliferation of images, sometimes as many as twenty or more so-called etats (states) of a single painting or drawing. The small photos, which were often pasted together onto sheets of gridded notepaper, are startling, especially to the degree that they conjure a sense of system. In any case, they radically formalize Matisse’s methodology, and we might go so far as to speculate that, by this time, Matisse was painting states for the camera. The fact that he permitted these photographs to be published and that he even showed some of them–enlarged and framed–together with the final painting in a gallery setting surely also suggests such a thing. This is to argue…that the photographs came not just ot record the artist’s working method but to motivate it–or, better, that they served to stage process as both developmental and iterative.
This just blows my mind a little bit. I’ve always thought of Matisse as somehow an age and an artist apart from the development of photographic modernism; but in fact, he was living right in the middle of it. Why wouldn’t he use it? Now where are these photos?
STATE OF THE ART: MATISSE UNDER EXAMINATION, Jeffrey Weiss, Artforum, March 2010