‘It was like drawing, but with scissors… there was sensuality in the cutting’
La Perruche et la Sirène (The Parakeet and the Mermaid) is one of the greatest examples of Henri Matisse’s cut-out works. The cut-out is technically related to the collage. Matisse executed this work by snipping forms from paper coloured in one hue. The total work contains cut-out forms in contrasting colours on a white surface. He began this method in 1940, but in his last years this medium dominated all his work. The imagery of this piece consists of leaves, pomegranates and two forms that appear only once. These two forms represent a parakeet on the left and a mermaid on the right side, from which the title of the work derives. The space surrounding the objects is just as important as the objects themselves. Matisse created this monumental cut-out while recuperating from a major operation which prevented him working in his studio. Consequently Matisse referred to this work as ‘a little garden all around me where I can walk’.
To learn more about Matisse’s cut-outs, visit MoMA’s interactive page
In 1975 Marina Abramovic met Ulay, an artist who shared her date of birth as well as her artistic concerns. Over the next two decades they lived and collaborated together, performing and traveling extensively. Their performances explored the parameters of power and dependency within the triangular relationship between each other and their audience.
In one performance, Breathing In/Breathing Out (1977), with their mouths clamped tightly together and microphones taped to their throats, Abramovic and Ulay breathed in turn the air from each other’s lungs, until – almost to the point of suffocation – they were exchanging only carbon dioxide. In another, Rest Energy (1980), they held a taut bow with an arrow loaded and pointing at Abramovic’s heart, with only the weight of their bodies maintaining the tension. Microphones recorded their rapidly accelerating heartbeats.
Text from Lacan
After a 12-year relationship fuelled by passion that could rival the greatest lovers in history, they finally agreed to part ways forever. For their last artistic collaboration they decided to each walk 2,500 miles from either end of The Great Wall of China, and meet in the middle to say their goodbyes. The 2012 documentary, The Artist is Present, reveals the moment when Ulay and Marina are reunited 20 years later in New York on the days leading up to her retrospective show.
Now living separate lives, the chemistry between them is still palpable. On the opening night of her show, when she begins her three-month stint in the wooden chair, staring people in the eyes, Ulay turns up and sits opposite her, creating a seriously epic, utterly real interaction between two past soulmates, brought together again by the art that joined them when they met.
Mondrian, who had escaped to New York from Europe after the outbreak of World War II, delighted in the city’s architecture. He was also fascinated by American jazz, particularly boogie-woogie, finding its syncopated beat, irreverent approach to melody, and improvisational aesthetic akin to what he called, in his own work, the “destruction of natural appearance; and construction through continuous opposition of pure means—dynamic rhythm.” In this painting, his penultimate, Mondrian replaced the black grid that had long governed his canvases with predominantly yellow lines that intersect at points marked by squares of blue and red. These atomized bands of stuttering chromatic pulses, interrupted by light gray, create paths across the canvas suggesting the city’s grid, the movement of traffic, and blinking electric lights, as well as the rhythms of jazz.
(Text from MoMA)
This Surrealist object was inspired by a conversation between Oppenheim and artists Pablo Picasso and Dora Maar at a Paris cafe. Admiring Oppenheim’s fur-covered bracelet, Picasso remarked that one could cover anything with fur, to which she replied, “Even this cup and saucer.” Soon after, when asked by André Breton, Surrealism’s leader, to participate in the first Surrealist exhibition dedicated to objects, Oppenheim bought a teacup, saucer, and spoon at a department store and covered them with the fur of a Chinese gazelle. In so doing, she transformed genteel items traditionally associated with feminine decorum into sensuous, sexually punning tableware.