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Rare Works by Henri Matisse on Display at the Heard Museum Beginning October 29
Beginning on October 29, the Heard Museum will present the works of celebrated French painter Henri Matisse in a never-before-seen exhibit, “Yua: Henri Matisse and the Inner Artistic Spirit,” which features Matisse’s black and white depictions of the Indigenous people of the Arctic, the masks that inspired them and several other relevant cultural objects.
The portraits, which are a departure from the Impressionism and Fauvism Matisse is known for, were inspired by Yup’ik masks collected by his son-in-law Georges Duthuit.
“It’s at a moment between the two wars and including during those wars where all of modern art is sort of coming from this moment of international chaos where artists are starting to look at other ways because they’re really desperate because of the chaos of what has happened to Western Europe, so they start looking at indigenous cultures from all over the world to look for a different model of existing in relation to nature and each other,” said curator at the Rock Foundation Sean Mooney.
Mooney, who is co-curating the exhibit with Chuna McIntyre, a Yup’ik artist and elder, explained the spiritual aspect of the work, and of the masks they were inspired by. “Yua” is a Yup’ik word that represents the spiritual interconnectedness of all living things and is essential to maintaining balance and order in the Arctic way of life.
“Here’s a master artist at the end of his last ten years of his life who’s dealing with his own legacy and mortality,” said Mooney of Matisse’s work. “He had cancer surgery 1941 he died in 1954 and he considered those 13 years as extra time. If there’s one thing that I want people to get is that there’s this kind of undercurrent of gratitude and spirituality that runs through the whole show.”
This exhibit also marks boasts the first ever exhibition to restore the original cultural practice of mated pairs of Yup’ik masks.
“This is kind of a game changer even for me,” said Mooney. “I’ve been I’ve been doing this for 30 plus years and this has got to be one of the highlights of anything I’ve done. It’s the first time that any of these Matisse pieces have been seen in America so there’s lots of historic moments in the show.”
The exhibit will feature more than 150 pieces and will run through February 3 at the Heard Museum.
“The Heard Museum is honored to show these rarely seen works by Matisse and to share this extraordinary story with our visitors,” said Heard Museum director and CEO David M. Roche. “Of particular significance to us is the effort this story inspired to reunite pairs of Yup’ik masks that, due to a variety of circumstances, have been separated by time and great distances. It’s a thrilling and emotional experience to see them together again and advancing this type of scholarship is central to our mission.”