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Pierre's Heteronomy: Where is the avant-garde?

Dec 13, 2022 - Jan 28 , 2023


Adolescente Aux Cheveux Roux

1947, Oil on Canvas

25 5/8 x 31 7/8 in. (65 x 81 cm.)

Outside of the bourgeoise strictures of the American artworld was Pierre Matisse (1900-
1989), the son of Henri Matisse. Pierre was born on June 13, 1900 in Bohain-en-Vermandois,
and had initially dreamed of becoming an artist, studying under Fauvist co-founder André
Derain. Recognizing his limits early on, Pierre moved to New York to apprentice under the
erudite dealer-cum-gallerist, Valentine Dudensing. At the age of 31, Pierre established his own
gallery in 1931. Thus transpired the Pierre Matisse Gallery, modestly pocketed within the Upper
East Side Fuller Building, thriving until Pierre’s death in 1989. Pierre novelized art dealership,
ushering it into a collaborative terrain. His exquisite sense of collaboration, intuition, and
forthrightness marked Pierre relationships with his artists. He carved out a venerable reputation
for the gallery, starting out by showcasing artists such as Bonnard, Chagall, de Chirico, Derain,
and Rouault.

Famously, Giacometti made his debut at the gallery in January 1937, participating in a
group show with Aristide Maillol, Charles Despiau, and Joan Mirö. It was a career-setting
moment in what came to be a unique partnership. Giacometti once wrote to Pierre: "What a life I
have because of you! Nothing better could have happened to me.” Throughout the gallery’s 60-
year presence, it exhibited international bulwarks like Alexander Calder, Antonio Saura, Manolo
Millares, Zao Wou-ki, Jean-Robert Ipoustéguy, Reg Butler, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Loren MacIver
and Theodore Rozak. By the time Pierre reached the age of 90, his gallery’s holdings totaled
more than 3,500 pieces from these artists. Although the taciturn Pierre privately remarked that he
did not seek to impute his collection with any collective aesthetic ethos—deracinated from what
he saw as market constraints, collecting antiquities and old wares alongside myriad Mirós—his
bastion institute became its own heteronomous force. For in the throes of Pierre’s curatorial
Weltanschauung, an artist was sure to be affirmed within the avant-garde.

Shin Gallery’s exhibition draws from Pierre’s eclectic vision but, rather than merely
reanimating his gallery, seeks to pair a number of Pierre’s choice artists alongside contemporary
artists, antiquities, old wares, and twentieth century artists Matisse elided. This is our way of
paying homage instead of lapsing into mere adulation, advancing Pierre’s ethos. Alongside
Pierre’s linchpin, Giacometti, the exhibition sports Roman, Neolithic, and Greek antiquities
alongside works by Jean Dubuffet, Man Ray, Roberto Matta, Sam Francis, Paul Cézanne, Else
Alfelt, Lucas Cranach the Elder, André Derain, Balthus, Leonora Carrington, Yves Tanguy,
Loren MacIver, André Masson, Kay Sage, Joan Miro, and Carla Prina.

The three rooms trace a lineage anchored in the mid-twentieth century, albeit with
antiquities and sculptural idolization imputing variegated lineages that end with our
contemporary epoch, querying “where is the avant-garde today?” The first room pairs Dubuffet’s
idiosyncratic art brut with MacIver's emotive abstractions of everyday life, Matta’s biomorphic
crimson planes, Man Ray’s study of Méret Oppenheim’s backside counterposed by Cezanne,
Francis, and Alfelt’s ever-increasing experiments with abstraction. Moving through the second
room, works on paper by Giacometti and Balthus tether the surrealist pocketing of negative
space and libidinal subconscious to Carrington’s mystic tapestry. The third room unspools the
gallery’s own vision of eclectic discovery and archeological unearthing—Prina, Mirò’s studio
mate, retrieved to her rightful place amongst Italian abstractionist pioneers. In the third room,
Masson, Derain, and Sage recall Pierre’s importation of Parisian Surrealism to America.
Throughout, rather than merely mold the past a muse, the exhibition crafts a catholic curatorial
purview, prodding Pierre’s worldview into curious directions brimming with juxtapositions.