LOU'S VIEWS: On Matisse and Macheath

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
Lou Harry

Most gallery shows, like most concerts and theatrical events, have a structure to them. There’s a beginning, middle and end crafted by curators and exhibition designers from the materials at hand. Rarely do we need to ask, “Where should I look first?”


“Matisse: Life in Color: Masterworks from the Baltimore Museum of Art” (at the Indianapolis Museum of Art through Feb. 14), is no different. It begins with a giant photograph of the artist, builds thematically rather than chronologically, climaxes with his Jazz series of cutout constructions, then offers a pair of epilogues—a side gallery featuring student work inspired by Henri Matisse and the mandatory exit gift shop. (I hear the scarf has proven particularly popular.)

Within the works themselves, though, visitors are on their own.

Unlike many artists, Matisse systematically avoids telling the viewer where to look. At the IMA, you can see that clearly in such paintings as “Festival of Flowers,” where the two figures fight for attention with the carnival parade they are watching. Or in “Odalisque with Green Sash,” where the wallpaper pattern and latticework draw attention from the central nude figure. Or in “Marie-Jose in Yellow Dress,” where the woman, the dress, the table and the flowers seem to all share the same DNA.

ae-matisse-1950-249-15col.jpg Henri Matisse’s “The Serpentine,” top, and “Still Life, Bouquet of Dahlias and White Book,” above, demonstrate the range of his artistic interests. (Photos/Mitro Hood. © 2013 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York)

When an artist says things like, “I do not paint things; I paint only the difference between things,” it might seem cryptic and deliberately obscure. Same for these classic lines: “When I put a green, it is not grass. When I put a blue, it is not the sky.”

But surround yourself with Matisse’s work at the IMA and his quotes make perfect sense. The objects he painted often seem to exist in order to carry the color, to give reason to the lines that surround them. It appears effortless, yes (and that isn’t helped by a silent film of Matisse crafting three versions of the same face), but as anyone who has ever picked up a paintbrush knows, fluidity isn’t easy.

The show’s organization allows viewers a peek into Matisse’s restless and creative mind, active over more than six decades. The exhibition features more than 100 works, including sculptures that blur figure with base, creating both from the same material and giving both the same texture. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on the line that surrounds his talent, more surprises appear in a show worth not just a visit, but multiple revisits.

Indianapolis Opera’s “The Threepenny Opera”

In a production void of edges and urgency, Indianapolis Opera turned Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s “Threepenny Opera” (Oct. 11-20) into an exhausting evening featuring, on opening night, the most lackluster ovation I’ve ever heard at a professional production in Indianapolis.

I don’t usually comment on audience reaction to a show one way or the other, but in this case the flaccid ovation and the “should-we-or-shouldn’t-we” polite applause that capped many of the numbers only added to the awkwardness.

While the title might be familiar, the rarity of productions in these parts—and the lack of success of cinematic versions—may warrant a plot synopsis. Macheath, who leads an English gang, marries Polly. Her father, who leads the city’s beggars, isn’t happy with the relationship (minor detail: Macheath already has another bride, as well as a prostitute for a common-law wife) and so schemes to have him captured and hung.

But plot isn’t central to the Weill/Brecht vision. We’re not expected to identify emotionally with these underworld folks. Quite the opposite. We’re supposed to be thinking rather than feeling, constantly aware of the artifice of theater.

That doesn’t mean, though, that “Threepenny Opera” should have at its core a Macheath who lacks any sign of menace and who looks more like Charlie Brown in a bad wig than the king of the London underworld (the part has been played in the past, FYI, by the likes of Jerry Orbach, Alan Cumming, Sting and Raul Julia).

One of the potential benefits of Indianapolis Opera’s use of the intimate Basile Opera Center rather than the cavernous Clowes Hall for select operas is that the former offers an intimacy impossible in the latter.

Intimacy, though, comes with its own set of challenges. And those challenges are accentuated when the material includes spoken scenes. Brecht’s dialogue scenes go on at great length—longer than in many conventional musicals. It demands different kinds of actors than is required by most operas … actors that Indianapolis Opera hasn’t supplied.

Through those music-free stretches, the completely visible small orchestra seemed bored. I sympathized.•


This column appears weekly. Send iformation on upcoming arts and entertainment events to lharry@ibj.com.


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by

facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
Subscribe to IBJ
  1. Hiking blocks to an office after fighting traffic is not logical. Having office buildings around the loop, 465 and in cities in surrounding counties is logical. In other words, counties around Indianapolis need office buildings like Keystone, Meridian, Michigan Road/College Park and then no need to go downtown. Financial, legal, professional businesses don't need the downtown when Carmel, Fishers, North Indy are building their own central office buildings close to the professionals. The more Hamilton, Boone county attract professionals, the less downtown is relevant. Highrises have no meaning if they don't have adequate parking for professionals and clients. Great for show, but not exactly downtown Chicago, no lakefront, no river to speak of, and no view from highrises of lake Michigan and the magnificent mile. Indianapolis has no view.

  2. "The car count, THE SERIES, THE RACING, THE RATINGS, THE ATTENDANCE< AND THE MANAGEMENT, EVERY season is sub-par." ______________ You're welcome!

  3. that it actually looked a lot like Sato v Franchitti @Houston. And judging from Dario's marble mouthed presentation providing "color", I'd say that he still suffers from his Dallara inflicted head injury._______Considering that the Formula E cars weren't going that quickly at that exact moment, that was impressive air time. But I guess we shouldn't be surprised, as Dallara is the only car builder that needs an FAA certification for their cars. But flying Dallaras aren't new. Just ask Dan Wheldon.

  4. Does anyone know how and where I can get involved and included?

  5. While the data supporting the success of educating our preschoolers is significant, the method of reaching this age group should be multi-faceted. Getting business involved in support of early childhood education is needed. But the ways for businesses to be involved are not just giving money to programs and services. Corporations and businesses educating their own workforce in the importance of sending a child to kindergarten prepared to learn is an alternative way that needs to be addressed. Helping parents prepare their children for school and be involved is a proven method for success. However, many parents are not sure how to help their children. The public is often led to think that preschool education happens only in schools, daycare, or learning centers but parents and other family members along with pediatricians, librarians, museums, etc. are valuable resources in educating our youngsters. When parents are informed through work lunch hour workshops in educating a young child, website exposure to exceptional teaching ideas that illustrate how to encourage learning for fun, media input, and directed community focus on early childhood that is when a difference will be seen. As a society we all need to look outside the normal paths of educating and reaching preschoolers. It is when methods of involving the most important adult in a child's life - a parent, that real success in educating our future workers will occur. The website www.ifnotyouwho.org is free and illustrates activities that are research-based, easy to follow and fun! Businesses should be encouraging their workers to tackle this issue and this website makes it easy for parents to be involved. The focus of preschool education should be to inspire all the adults in a preschooler's life to be aware of what they can do to prepare a child for their future life. Fortunately we now know best practices to prepare a child for a successful start to school. Is the business community ready to be involved in educating preschoolers when it becomes more than a donation but a challenge to their own workers?