Review: Matisse in Focus at Tate Liverpool

Matisse The Snail
Matisse - The Snail

Works to Know by Heart: Matisse in Focus
at Tate Liverpool. Friday 20 November 2015 – Monday 2 May 2016

Words by Patrick Kirk-Smith. Photographs by Patrick Kirk-Smith and artinliverpool.

Matisse in Focus is an educational introduction to the work of this giant of modern art. It also happens to be the final time the centre piece of this show, The Snail, Matisse’s largest collage work, and one of his last, will ever travel.

Due to conservation efforts, this work – already preserved by its application to canvas – will be kept in London as part of the Tate’s permanent collection, making it a wonderful privilege for it to be completing this final leg of its European tour in Liverpool. The work is mirrored by a film of Matisse in his studio that shows important religious paraphernalia and his working methods, but most importantly it shows The Snail displayed in its original context, pinned to his studio wall.

These pin holes are still visible in the corners of the torn paper which make up the abstract work. This sensitivity to process is the exhibition’s strongest card, considering it is one that spans his entire half-century career, from figurative painting, to expressive sculpture and, in the end, completely abstract work that had an unprecedented impact on the future of the arts.

This work, all from one of the most influential artists in history, begs for argument and debate on the value of art. It is an exhibition that engages the public, in what seems like a very strong tactical move by Tate Liverpool to almost pre-warn visitors of the possible engagement that lies in wait three floors above (An Imagined Museum runs alongside this exhibition as part of Works to Know by Heart). It is a show that anyone can walk into and develop new opinions by the time they leave, and that should be the sign of this exhibition’s success – yet another example of Tate Liverpool actively engaging the public with critically interesting bodies of work.

Not to mention the long game. (Insert Artist Name Here) In Focus is a clever new series by the Tate that brings well known works to the forefront of their seasonal offerings, and in doing so looks to bring the public to the forefront of the debate. If you thought you were being challenged by The Snail as an artwork, just wait for the next round. Tracy Emin’s brilliantly arguable Bed. They are not trying to drag people in here, just hoping that the work provokes enough interest, and enough debate to bring people on its own merit (or otherwise, as I’m sure you’ll hear around pub tables for a few months).

This series is set to continue presenting us with wonderful introductions to industry giants and revolutionaries. And it’s a little bit scary really, because the Tate seem to have got it very right, and that means this creative city could be becoming very, very, accountable to its public, especially if the Biennial 2016 keeps up the momentum of Winter 2015.