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Art review: Mercedes Matter at the Weisman Museum

February 19, 2010 |  5:00 am

400.mercedes-matter Mercedes Matter (1913-2001) was a minor New York School artist whose primary claim to notice was applying Abstract Expressionist scale to School of Paris painting. Still-life abstractions derived from Cezanne-style easel paintings are closer to the size of canvases by Rothko or De Kooning.

A sketchy traveling retrospective at Pepperdine University's Weisman Museum assembles 38 paintings and three charcoal drawings, starting with juvenilia. (The show is supported by and comes with an oversized catalog published by the gallery that handles her estate – the same gallery that in 2005 unveiled a group of 32 small, previously unknown Jackson Pollock drip-paintings, "discovered" by Matter's son, now widely dismissed as inauthentic.) Matter's father, early American Modernist Arthur B. Carles, began her instruction as a child, and the show opens with a pair of precocious, Matisse-inspired color abstractions made when she was about 8 years old.

Following later study with Hans Hofmann, who seems to have taught or influenced just about every New York School painter, she briefly toyed with pure abstraction, thickly painted. But soon Matter returned to still lifes, composed as either big, chromatically vibrant force-fields, or else dramatic charcoal drawings, often on exposed canvas board.

Triangular, prismatic forms and linear vectors alter placid arrangements of bowls, fruits, mounded tablecloths and an occasional landscape into energized fields of flat, jagged hues. Like many American painters of her father's generation, she worked toward a synthesis of Fauve color and Cubist structure; but the scale of her work came to outstrip theirs. Perhaps that diffusion of intensity helps to explain their general feeling of clumsiness.

– Christopher Knight

Weisman Museum, Pepperdine University, 24255 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, (310) 506-4556, through April 4. Closed Mondays. www.arts.pepperdine.edu

Image: "Tabletop Still Life," circa 1936. Credit: Weisman Museum, Pepperdine University.

Comments () | Archives (17)

This is what you get when you sleep through art class.

"... diffusion of intensity helps to explain their general feeling of clumsiness."

what is your comment supposed to mean Cate?

. . . And ditch freshman Comp. 101.

Still not getting it Cate - are these comments actual criticism of the art? Do you even know the terms that the writer is using to bracket the artist's work? Tell me what are Abstract Expressionism, Fauvism and Cubism? Who is Hans Hoffman? You don't know do you? And you haven't seen this show, have you? So why do you feel the need to make snotty remarks about something you know nothing about? That seems sort of sad and generally mean. Is that how you relate to culture? It must be a drag to be you.

That's what I thought.

Abstract Expressionism was the potential panicle of art for me, but was to quickly shoved out the door before it peaked in favor of the empty cultural satire of pop art and the nothing art that has dominated ever since. While I don’t think Mercedes Matter was an astounding innovator, I think she made a very respectable foray into different corners of expressionism. Whenever I see work on that almost brilliant level it makes me sad for the collapsing star that was abstract expressionism where drawing skills collided with abstraction and could have formed supernovas if schools had encouraged abstraction with drawing foundation instead of throwing out the skill baby with the bathwater. I am heartened that I’m seeing some good abstract work being done here the there today, but rarely reviewed here. I hope the Times are a changin’.

Oh no!! Please don't defile Bob Dylan by quoting him as a back-up to your conservative, uneducated art criticism. I mean I know you're trying to sound smart and all but give up - you were better before when you were vying with Good Ole Don Frazell for the abuse prize.

MM looks like later, and severely weakend, Robert Delaunay stuff. Weak color, washed out with white, and no depth, though attempting to create energy with both. She tried, but simply failed. E for effort, sadly D- in execution.

I thought Cate's comments were rather concise and obvious. Get one must be trained, in other words, indoctrinated, by contempt art speak and limited ideas of life to communciate with the throngs of newly minted genius' our great art academic system spews out every year.

Hofman was a hack, a failure in Europe, came here when over 50 and as with no success back home, and all things Euro art at the time, was a hit with the enthusiastic, if ignorant, local yokels of yankee Doodledom. Gave rather simplistic forumulas, which the babies ate up, and still do today. Art starts with passion and ends with it, how you get there is solving problems, and creating a reflection of life, an equivalent through a purely visual langauge each artist must create.

Art schools are all mental gymnastics, in a rather limited vocabulary of basic perfromances. Sorta like the Special Olympics of art. As in the great words of my hero Rhame Emmanual, retarded. Intelligent people mostly moved on from art long ago. it is time we returned, and proclaimed the Imperial Clothing the sham it is, as art is again, finally, needed.

art collegia delenda est


“Conservative, uneducated art criticism” translation: if I don’t agree with you, you’re an idiot. Oh wait! I did agree with you. I think I was pretty positive in my comments above. With all my ignorant hand wringing of the artists reviewed here, I’ve tried not to single out a fellow bloger and attack them personally; I find that a very Republican tactic. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.
It would be refreshing to see you make a fool of me by tearing down my observations, should be easy for a well-educated art theologian like you to beat up on a county bumpkin like me. Be a hero to the Culture Monsters, please eviscerate the cretin’s theories.

Naiomi, my comment says that I slept through art class and ditched freshman Comp. 101. I'm neither an artist nor an academic "art historian." I just like to read the reviews and look at the "pictures." Unfortunately, I don't live near LA anymore so I can't go to these shows.

Nothing I've said has been mean. Mean-spirited people see only meanness in others. Why don't you say something thoughtful about the art rather than insult people you don't even know. Maybe you'd prefer to drag everyone down into a hateful exchange of words. Sorry, that's not my style.

Mercedes Matter might not have been a "great artist," but she could paint circles, cubes, triangles and prisms around me.

if you'd made an observation I'd tear it down. How in any way should "This is what you get when you sleep through art class" supposed to tell the readers that you don't get it because YOU slept through art class? The context tells us that you are telling us the artist being reviewed slept through art class. If you want to be understood - perhaps you should be more clear?
And actually I've read a number of your comments on various shows and some have been really mean. I don't hate the players or the game - I just wish the players in the game were better.

Naiomi, my comments have not been mean. If you're the same "Naiomi" who complained about my "superscript" comment on David Pagel's review of Diana Thater's art, then I think you misunderstood my message there as well. I remarked on the use of what I call written "word art" within the review and was not making a personal judgment about Ms. Thater's art.

You're right. I know very little about art history and its academic terms. I know I'M a drag, but what are you?

Mercedes Matter would be the first to admit that she was never the equal of her good friends such as Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Philip Guston. Like Elaine de Kooning and Lee Krasner, women artists of her generation were not granted the opportunities to advance their art and careers. I choose to present this exhibition in order to give the people of Los Angeles a chance to see an interesting historic artist whose work remains largely unknown to the public. It is also unfortunate that Christopher Knight only saw the 38 works on the first floor of the retrospective. He overlooked nine major paintings from her last decades on the second floor—works that have been acclaimed as her strongest, most powerful, and most original. I am sure the people who take the time to see the entire exhibition will experience what the Wall Street Journal called the “one of the best New York painting exhibitions” (referring to the installation at Baruch College in Manhattan in the fall).

It would be nice if you showed more of her work online at your gallery Mr Zakian. And she was given as much oportunity as anyone, gallery deals do not a better painter make, just a bigger reputation. She and the other two women had plenty of time and situations to create excellent work. They can be judged on their work, not on some mythical male dominated conspiracy. For many, yes, but they had the time, thats all one needs. Paul Klee did much more with far less. He had a kitchen table, they had studios and access to whatever and woever they wanted. The proof is in the pudding. Give us a taste.

This is Christopher Knight, replying to Michael Zakian: I did see the works on the second floor, shortly following your presentation to a small tour group on Jan. 28.

"Perhaps that diffusion of intensity helps to explain their general feeling of clumsiness."

Does this mean that someone who sees a unique and meaningful insightful visual energy in Matter's work is a kind of doltish oaf?

"Mercedes Matter (1913-2001) was a minor New York School... "

What are your seeing credentials? What do you see and feel?
Actually, who cares? Your comments are gaseous releases that
carry more than a hint of their origin. Your uncritical biases are the actual subject matter of your "writing", ...not Matter.

Try to imagine that if your observations and sensibilities at work in this article were a painting, what it might look like.

We all get cramps sometime or other, and with you it seems to be a personality

good luck, and try to divine how you can become more penetrable.
it's always the punch you don't see that gets you.


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