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Matisse Alive

19 October 2021

Nina Chanel Abney 'BLUE' 2021 collage on panel, 153 x 154.6 cm Lent by the artist, courtesy of Pace Prints, NYC © Nina Chanel Abney

Nina Chanel Abney BLUE 2021 (detail) collage on panel, 153 x 154.6 cm Lent by the artist, courtesy of Pace Prints, NYC © Nina Chanel Abney

The Art Gallery of New South Wales presents Matisse Alive, a free gallery-wide festival of Matisse featuring vital new work, participatory projects, dazzling textiles, and vibrant displays of art from the collection.

Opening on 23 October, Matisse Alive offers visitors a unique chance to explore the life, art and influence of one of the world’s most celebrated artists, Henri Matisse, in the lead-up to and alongside the major, ticketed exhibition Matisse: Life & Spirit, Masterpieces from the Centre Pompidou, Paris, which opens on 20 November 2021.

Flooding the Art Gallery with colour and energy, this program of art, music, performance and community celebrates Matisse’s art as an inspiration, point of orientation and focus of dialogue for artists today.

At the heart of Matisse Alive are four new artist projects by leading artists Nina Chanel Abney (US), Sally Smart (Australia), Angela Tiatia (Sāmoa/Australia) and Robin White (NZ) that present contemporary perspectives on this ‘modern master’ and focus especially on his imagining of the Pacific.

Art Gallery of NSW head curator of international art and co-curator of Matisse Alive, Justin Paton said: ‘We are thrilled to present four new projects by some of the most exciting women artists of today, Nina Chanel Abney, Sally Smart, Angela Tiatia and Robin White. Their works are relevant, urgent, ambitious and exciting and reflect deeply on the meanings of the past for the present.’

In her project Framily Ties, New York artist Nina Chanel Abney creates visions of contemporary American life using an inimitable visual language that draws on the decisive shapes and clarion colour of Matisse’s cut-outs. Alongside tender collage portraits of friends in domestic settings, Abney has responded to Matisse’s favoured theme of the dance, creating mural-like works, at once celebratory and edgy, in which syncopated bodies shift shape, ethnicity and sexual identity.

Sydney artist Angela Tiatia draws on inspiration garnered on her recent research trip to Tahiti to present The Pearl, an immersive video work that addresses the history of the colonising of the female body in Polynesia to find a new way of imagining a ‘Pacific Venus’. In this work, Tiatia references Matisse's sculpture Venus in a shell 1930 and the culture of the Pacific Islands that inspired the artist.

Floating in a cloudy ski is a pink plastic clam shell, partially open, on which is balanced a white spiral shell holding a pink hibiscus flower.

Angela Tiatia with Tristan Jalleh, for a new video by Angela Tiatia, The pearl 2021, for the Matisse Alive exhibition at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. © Angela Tiatia

Fascinated by Matisse’s late cut-outs and the role played in creating them by his dedicated female assistants, Melbourne artist Sally Smart presents a large-scale multimedia installation of collaged fabrics that continues her long-term investigation into female subjectivity. In The Artist’s House, Smart points to the physical labour that takes place within her own and Matisse’s studios, making a space for the women who helped him make his work.

New Zealand artist Robin White, who lived for many years in Kiribati in the central Pacific Ocean, presents Vaiola, a monumental series of intricately patterned tapa (ngatu and masi) works created in collaboration with Ebonie Fifita. This powerful contemporary Pacific response features symbolic objects in domestic interiors which dramatise imagined encounters between Matisse and figures from the world of the Asia-Pacific.

The presence of the Pacific in Matisse’s imagination is further explored with an electrifying display of tivaevae – the Polynesian art of quilting – made by women from the Cook Islander community of South-Western Sydney.

Art Gallery of NSW special exhibitions curator and co-curator of Matisse Alive, Jackie Dunn said: ‘We are excited to turn our attention to community and culture with the stunning display of new, and older treasured, tivaevae created by hand, by women from our region. These vibrant works, selected with guest curator Mereana Taruia, celebrate Matisse’s strong connection to tivaevae and other Pacific textile traditions, which profoundly influenced his late great works, the cut-outs.’

The exhibition also includes two new collection displays showcasing a vibrant array of 20th and 21st century works from the Art Gallery of NSW Australian and international art collection. Living Space, a presentation of more than 70 works from the collection, is inspired by Matisse's vision of domestic spaces and objects, revealing how modern and contemporary artists including Betty Woodman and Kamrooz Aram have shaped spaces of intimacy and contemplation. The John Kaldor Family Hall features a celebratory display of abstract works inspired by Matisse’s radiant colour sense and dynamic use of form.

Kids and families are invited to drop in any time to the Making Space to decorate a mural with magnetic patterns and objects on the theme of belonging designed by Robin White and her collaborator Ebonie Fifita. Making Space also features new works by a group of Year 10 students from Leumeah High School as part of an intensive workshop series exploring collective ideas of home through text and image, led by Western Sydney writer Winnie Dunn.

Matisse Alive is also accompanied by a series of public programs, including an In the Frame online talk with Sally Smart and Robin White on Tuesday 30 November 2021 at 7.30pm and special Art After Hours: Matisse Alive events on Wednesday 12 and 19 January 2022 at 5-9pm. Other events taking place this summer include tivaevae demonstrations, weaving workshops with artist Sione Falemaka, and a series of performances featuring community singers and musicians, created in collaboration with Cook Islands community leader Margaret Nekeare-Cowan.

Matisse Alive is on display from 23 October 2021 to 3 April 2022. Entry is free. Making Space and Living Space will be open until 16 January 2022; the collection display in the John Kaldor Family Hall will be on show until 6 February 2022; and Tivaevae and the four artists’ projects will be on display until 3 April 2022. Exhibitions may be adjusted or cancelled subject to changes to public health advice and guidelines.

The health and safety of visitors is the top priority of the Art Gallery, which is closely following NSW Public Health Orders. Visitors are required to comply with Public Health Orders and are encouraged to plan their visit by reviewing the COVID-safe guidelines on our website.

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