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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.)

Henri Matisse’s post-impressionist oeuvre needs no introduction but lesser-known amongst the general public is his youngest son Pierre Matisse, an influential art dealer whose Pierre Matisse Gallery—which operated in New York City's Upper East Side from 1931 until 1989—introduced many European modern art bulwarks to New York and the United States artworld. Pierre Matisse moved from France to New York in his 20s to establish the gallery, which, for approximately sixty years, played a prominent role in the New York and international art world, introducing major European artists such as Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, Alexander Calder, Balthus, Alberto Giacometti, Jean Dubuffet and Marc Chagall to the United States.

The Pierre Matisse Gallery listlessly championed French and European modern art during a critical period that saw the formation of major private and institutional American collections. The gallery organized over three hundred exhibitions and both allowed a generation of European artists to engage in the New York art scene and for New York-based artists to become exposed to, and in turn inspired by, these European bastions. Notably, and in line with Shin Gallery’s curatorial ethos and vision, the Pierre Matisse Gallery supported individuals rather than movements like fauvism, cubism, surrealism or the School of Paris. Balthus once underscored that Pierre Matisse “saw things as a painter’s son”, appreciating an eclectic array of disparate figures and approaches to sculpture and painting. Notably, Pierre was simultaneously a collector of old wares and antiquities. Like gallerist Hong Gyu Shin, Pierre was more interested in introducing timeless works that would withstand the tumultuous travails of art history than pigeonholing his gallery to art market trends.

As aforementioned, Shin Gallery has historically displayed renowned and rediscovered artists alike, recalling Pierre Matisse’s approach. Thus, Shin Gallery feels a deep resonance with Pierre Matisse’s vision and this exhibition seeks to reintroduce it to a contemporary audience. Hence, we have drawn from Pierre Matisse’s collection to display works from 20th century modernism alongside old wares and antiquities.

Balthus as well as several sprawling Giacometti sculptures from the artist’s early career, alongside Giacometti’s more figurative later-career works. These are accompanied by surrealist tableaus from Roberto Matta. However, rather than merely trek Pierre Matisse’s impressive collection, this exhibition at Shin Gallery also illuminates and, critically, advances Pierre’s lesser-known, career-wide interest in antiquities and old wares.

Indeed, although previous exhibitions such as “Pierre Matisse, an Art Dealer in New York” held by the Musée Matisse in 2021 have spoken to the collector’s expansive modernist collection, they have overlooked his interest in antiquities. Given that this was an important facet of Pierre’s penchant for art collection, this is an oversight that Shin Gallery seeks to remedy. As art historian Megan O'Neill has aptly noted, although Pierre Matisse began his business trading European art, he began adding pre-Hispanic art in the 1930s. Conflict in Europe during World War II prompted changes in the art market and, during this period, the pre-Hispanic art market largely shifted from Europe to the Americas. As evinced by John Russell's 1999 book Matisse: Father and Son, which chronicles and analyzes the Matisses’ personal correspondence, Pierre worked with Mexican dealers in acquiring pieces directly from Mexico, precipitating a growth in the removal of pre-Hispanic objects from that country. Although Matisse eventually stopped acquiring antiquities, he amassed a sizable collection during the years that he collected them and remained interested in pre-history. Thus, speaking to the full breadth of Pierre Matisse’s collection and its intimate reverberation with Shin Gallery’s own eclectic and encyclopedic curatorial approach, this exhibition dovetails both canonical modernist works and antiquities. Culling Pierre Matisse’s vision, Pierre Mattise: Giacometti to Balthus rouses and rekindles Pierre’s singular worldview while simultaneously shining a light on a critical historical development in New York and European art history.