How well do you know your MoMA? If you think you can identify the artist and title of each of these works from MoMA’s collection—all currently on view throughout the Museum—please submit your answers by leaving a comment on this post. We’ll provide the answers next month (on Friday, November 14). Read more
My favorite part of Woody Allen’s 2011 film Midnight in Paris is the moment when actress Marion Cotillard reveals her preferred moment from Paris’s illustrious past. Instead of being magically transported to the roaring 1920s of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda, Pablo Picasso, and Gertrude Stein, she prefers the glamour of the Belle Époque—the riotous 1890s when the City of Lights basked in all its outrageous fin-de-siècle glory. A new sensibility called L’Art Nouveau was winding its organic tentacles around the built environment, infusing it with the sensuous forms and generative force of nature. The accompanying move toward abstraction was opening up new possibilities for artistic expression in painting and sculpture. Japonisme was all the rage, and its elegant asymmetries, colorful patterns, flattening of space, heavily outlined forms, and radically cropped images had taken Paris by storm. A renaissance of printmaking breathed new life into traditional approaches to artistic production, and the graphic potential of the poster reached its apotheosis. And what would that moment have been without the towering genius (if diminutive in physical stature) and force-of-nature personality of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec?
What has always fascinated me most about this artist was his chameleon-like ability to construct his identity(s), actively living every moment of his brief and physically disabled but spectacular life in a blaze of artistic glory. An aristocrat, born with a silver spoon in his mouth (not an absinthe spoon, that would come later), Toulouse-Lautrec lived with one foot in the rarified world of great privilege, in the palaces, salons, and soirées made accessible by his privileged birthright, yet with the other firmly planted in the rowdy world of the Parisian demimonde, surrounding himself with other gifted outsiders of the artistic and entertainment worlds. Adroitly bridging “high” and “low,” Toulouse-Lautrec embraced a culture of excess that almost single-handedly defined the idea of a bohemian lifestyle.
In the brothels and cabarets, at the wildest parties imaginable, clad in exotic costumes and mixing up the deadliest concoctions of cocktails (American style) that he served at infamous soirées with hundreds of guests, Toulouse-Lautrec creative flame burned brightly as he walked (albeit with some difficulty) on the wild side. At one of the more spectacular of these parties, the 1895 housewarming fête for Alexandre (Thadee) Natanson, editor of La Revue Blance, and his wife Misia, the artist outdid himself serving 300 guests 2,000 cocktails (or so he proudly claimed) mixed in lurid hues of red, pink, yellow, and green, and apparently creating the desired effect, as several guests (including the artists Pierre Bonnard and Édouard Vuillard) left the party horizontally, as they had to be carried off to an impromptu “triage unit” for the hopelessly inebriated. Clad in a waistcoat made from an American flag and a shaved head, Toulouse-Lautrec staged the event, designed the invitations, and entertained guests including Alfred Jarry, Andre Gidé, Mallarmé, and Félix Fénéon. Now THAT’S a party!
Some of Toulouse-Lautrec’s most engaging work depicts his close female friends and muses, included the celebrated performers Jane Avril [also known as “La Melinite”—“the bomb,” Yvette Guilbert, and La Gouloue (“the glutton”)], immortalized in a series of prints and posters currently on view in the exhibition The Paris of Toulouse-Lautrec: Prints and Posters from The Museum of Modern Art.
Come join me and other fans of 1890s Paris on October 16 or 22 for MoMA After Hours: Toulouse-Lautrec’s Nightlife, an evening of drinks, divas, and delightful conversation as we channel Toulouse-Lautrec’s demimonde while enjoying an after-hours visit to the exhibition and hands-on drawing project inspired by the artist’s constant doodling. Sample savory hors-d’oeuvres and raise of glass to “the green fairy” (absinthe) and to the incomparable joie de vivre of Toulouse-Lautrec and his divas. Who knows, you may even be inspired to dance the can-can.
The centerpiece of the exhibition Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs, Matisse’s remarkable room-size cut-out The Swimming Pool returns to the MoMA galleries for the first time in more than 20 years. In this video, MoMA’s Department of Conservation shares a behind-the-scenes look at the process of conserving this beloved artwork, and in the text below conservator Laura Neufeld provides background on the project. Read more
Five for Friday, written by a variety of MoMA staff members, is our attempt to spotlight some of the compelling, charming, and downright curious works in the Museum’s rich collection.
As a native of New England, I wasn’t aware there was such a thing as “leaf peeping” until I moved to New York about a dozen years ago. I guess I took for granted the fact that I didn’t have to go somewhere to see the leaves change color. Since I’m unable to get out of the city this weekend—which the Internet confirms is the peak of the “leaf peeping” season—I decided to round up some foliage from MoMA’s collection… Read more
“From the branches of a mango tree, in its spreading shade on a hot May morning in a north Indian village, the bodies of two teenaged women hang”—Nivedita Menon
“Every three seconds, somewhere on this planet, a person is forced to flee his or her home”—António Guterres
“Violence begets violence”—Judge Shira Scheindlin
With its fully furnished interior space fitted-out in overstuffed cowhide, and an exterior clad in poly-carbonate panels Jimenez Lai’s White Elephant (Privately Soft) operates as both a free standing mini-building and as maxi-furniture. Read more
On October 12, the exhibition Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs—the largest presentation of this final chapter of Matisse’s work ever mounted— will open at MoMA. Much of the anticipation surrounding this show stems from the fact that this visually vibrant and conceptually radical body of work has not been seen on this scale in New York in over 50 years. Read more
Born to aristocratic parents who were first cousins, Toulouse-Lautrec was afflicted with genetic abnormalities. He stopped growing in his early teens at the height of four feet, 11 inches, and as he continued to mature, the growth of his nose and lips outpaced that of his face, causing drooling, lisping, and sinus troubles. Physically unfit for many of the social and sporting elements central to aristocratic life, Toulouse-Lautrec moved to Paris to study art, where he pursued both his creative and social life with vigor. He spent his days working on painting and lithography, and his absinthe-fueled nights at the opera, theaters, cafés, or nightclubs. His life and work merged; he became a chronicler of the Montmartre scenes he frequented.
Suzuki describes Toulouse-Lautrec’s subjects as “resoundingly populist.” She writes, “Toulouse-Lautrec was a nightly visitor to the theater, the circus, and the opera, finding tremendous freedom and inspiration in those milieus.” Toulouse-Lautrec portrayed the performers he adored, like “The Clowness,” Mademoiselle Cha-u-ka-o, a nightclub entertainer.
An 1893 lithograph shows Toulouse-Lautrec’s friend Aristide Bruant, the proprietor of the Mirliton—a Montmartre café. Although Bruant is shown in profile, his back to the viewer, contemporaries would have immediately recognized his large felt hat and velvet coat; the portrait rests on social signifiers rather than on faithful depiction. Suzuki explains that Toulouse-Lautrec “used the low-cut dress of La Goulue, the high-stepping posture of Jane Avril, the gloves of Yvette Guilbert, and the profile of Valentin, rather than traditional portrait likenesses. Toulouse-Lautrec himself was quoted telling Guilbert, ‘Ma chere, I don’t detail you. I totalize you!’”
Using MoMA’s extensive collection of Toulouse-Lautrec’s prints, posters, journals, songs sheets, theatre programs, and illustrated books as her inspiration, Suzuki paints a portrait of an artist whose unique biography, persona, and taste is clearly reflected in his art. She places Toulouse-Lautrec squarely in and of his historical milieu, positing that his work might be seen as a visual distillation of the spirit of the Parisian belle époque.
How well do you know your MoMA? If you think you can identify the artist and title of each of these works from MoMA’s collection—all currently on view throughout the Museum—please submit your answers by leaving a comment on this post. We’ll provide the answers next month (on Friday, October 10). Read more
We are thrilled to announce that Gustav Klimt’s stunning Adele Bloch-Bauer II, one of two formal portraits that the artist made of his patron Adele Bloch-Bauer, is on view in MoMA’s fifth-floor Painting and Sculpture Galleries beginning today, as a special long-term loan from a private collection. Read more