What Matisse Can Teach San Antonio About Color

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San Antonio is a city that loves color, yet on more than one occasion, has allowed color to become a citywide lover’s quarrel.

Who can forget the city’s red-hot debate in the early 1990s when Mexican architect Ricardo Legorreta dressed the new Central Library in enchilada red? The talk radio alarmists seem amusing in retrospect, but back then the future of downtown San Antonio seemingly hung in the balance — so shrill were the cries.

Who can forget when the writer Sandra Cisneros moved into “The House on Guenther Street” in historic King William and painted it a strong and vivid purple? Cisneros, with the help of San Antonio artist and teacher Terry Ybañez, saw such exuberant color as affirmation of the city’s rich Mexican heritage. The guardians of a historic district with German roots disagreed, and a long, sometimes acrimonious standoff ensued with the city’s Historic Design and Review Commission.

Memory tells me the hot South Texas sun softened the color to violet, then lavender, and the issue finally faded, too. Later, Cisneros repainted the house a bright fuchsia. I’ve admired the home in all its hues, defended by its spiny cacti, green succulents and tall, corn-yellow sunflowers.

“We Mexicans use color irresponsibly,” Legorreta once quipped in a lecture he delivered at the University of Texas School of Architecture where our son, Nicolas, was a student some years after the building of the Central Library. He recalled Legorreta’s unapologetic homage to bold color as a Mexican celebration of life itself.

Color can be strong and arresting, yet it can join us rather than divide us. See for yourself in the work of the great 20th century impressionist Henry Matisse whose still-modern work, 60 years after his death, will soon captivate San Antonians in a summer blockbuster exhibition at the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA).

Matisse: Life in Color, Masterworks from the Baltimore Museum of Art,” opens June 14 and runs through Sept. 7 at SAMA.  No other Texas or regional art museum will host the exhibition, which comes here from Minneapolis. People will travel here to see the Baltimore museum’s sweeping collection of more than 100 Matisse paintings, sculpture and works on paper. Tickets go on sale Wednesday, so those who want to see the exhibition in June should buy now.

Matisse married simplicity of form and the essence of color with such beauty and purity that I have found myself staring for inordinately long periods of time at different versions of “The Dance” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. How could he express such emotion through curve and color with shapes that seemingly move on the canvas so long after they were painted?

For readers new to our city, SAMA is unlike any art museum you’ve ever visited. It is housed in the original Lone Star Brewery on the Museum Reach of the San Antonio River. The permanent collection ranges from ancient Greece and Rome to pre-Colombian and an amazing Mexican folk art collection.

Starting in mid-June, however, it is Matisse who will capture our hearts and imagination.

Katherine C. Luber

Katherine C. Luber, the Kelso Director of SAMA.

“The exhibition will enrich our community and increase the national and international stature of the San Antonio Museum of Art as well as the city of San Antonio as an important cultural destination,” said Katherine C. Luber, the Kelso Director of SAMA.

Luber said the exhibition will run simultaneously with a complementary exhibit, “The Art Books of Henri Matisse,” which opens on June 21 and will be on loan from the Bank of America (BOA) Collection. Matisse created 12 of the illustrated books over his career as an artist, and the BOA has four of them in its collection.

“Our commitment to the arts in San Antonio is long-standing and rooted in a desire to help enrich the culture and economic vitality of our community,” said Kenny Wilson, BOA’s San Antonio market president and one of the city’s under-appreciated advocates for community philanthropy. “We applaud SAMA’s vision … and making San Antonio a hotspot for anyone wishing to see one of the art’s great masters.”

Tuesday, Luber welcomed a pre-exhibition crowd of SAMA supporters to the museum atrium, adorned with Matisse banners.

“San Antonio is a city on the rise, a city creating a vision, a brainpower city,” said Mayor Julián Castro. “Along the Broadway Corridor, at the heart of it all is the museum and the work it has done, creating vibrant art and great education opportunities.”

Castro then led the audience in a Champagne toast, while refraining himself at mid-afternoon.

The whole city can get in a Matisse state of mind through a third initiative called “Matisse Paints the Town.” A consortium of local businesses have signed on to add a little Matisse to their products and services. From displays at Neiman-Marcus at The Shops at La Cantera to a B-Cycle dressed as a Matisse painting to unique macarons inspired by Matisse’s North African influences, even those who don’t make it to SAMA will find the French Impressionist softly arriving into their daily lives.

The museum will get into the act, too, with pop-up restaurant Wild Beast opening on SAMA’s riverfront. The name is an artful play on “Les Fauves,” the beastly name an art critic gave to Matisse and others of his generation who used color as recklessly in their day as Legorreta and his peers would a century later. The restaurant will serve a “simple summer menu” under the guidance of The Monterey, where color and taste are essential, and simple is in the eye of the beholder.

NOTE: Reproduction, including downloading of Henri Matisse works is prohibited by copyright laws and international conventions without the express written permission of ARS.

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7 thoughts on “What Matisse Can Teach San Antonio About Color

  1. As a painter who loves color I’m looking forward to this exhibition. I’ve loved living in a more colorful city ever since moving back home to San Antonio from Austin. And I enjoy working at an organization with a boldly colored building—Artpace!

  2. And be sure to check out Gemini Ink’s Dramatic Reader’s theatre in the exhibit on August 15 at 6:30. Featuring Rick Stemm Erik BosseJenny Browne Andrea Vocab Sanderson Mari Barrera, and the music of Azul Barrientos. Directed by Tj Tj Gonzales!

  3. I was surprised that Matisse in this article was described as a great 20th century Impressionist. Although he was definitely great, as far as I know, he was not an Impressionist, but falls into another category referred to as Post-Impressionism. And although Impressionism in visual art was a movement only about paint, Matisse was also a great sculptor and draftsman. Certainly by 1909, which was fairly early in his long career, his work was far beyond anything that could be considered Impressionism.

      • Yes, in the 1890s, Matisse made some paintings in the Impressionist style, as many young painters did. Also as a young painter, he made paintings in a more realistic style, but he was not a Realist. Yes, he was many things. But the fact that he made some impressionistic paintings as a young painter, does not place him in the Impressionist group of painters, who were much older. He left Impressionism behind very early in his career.

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