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. I had read earlier this spring that Noodles & Co was going to open in the Fishers Marketplace (which is SR 37 and 131st St, not 141st St, just FYI). Any word on that? Also, do you happen to know what is being built in Carmel at Pennsylvania and Old Meridian? May just be an office building but I'm not sure.

  2. I'm sorry, but you are flat out wrong. There are few tracks in the world with the history of IMS and probably NO OTHER as widely known and recognized. I don't care what you think about the stat of Indy Car racing, these are pretty hard things to dispute.

  3. Also wondering if there is an update on the Brockway Pub-Danny Boy restaurant/taproom that was planned for the village as well?

  4. Why does the majority get to trample on the rights of the minority? You do realize that banning gay marriage does not rid the world of gay people, right? They are still going to be around and they are still going to continue to exist. The best way to get it all out of the spotlight? LEGALIZE IT! If gay marriage is legal, they will get to stop trying to push for it and you will get to stop seeing it all over the news. Why do Christians get to decide what is moral?? Why do you get to push your religion on others? How would legalizing gay marriage expose their lifestyle to your children? By the way, their lifestyle is going to continue whether gay marriage is legalized or not. It's been legal in Canada for quite a while now and they seem to be doing just fine. What about actual rules handed down by God? What about not working on Sundays? What about obeying your parents? What about adultery? These are in the 10 Commandments, the most important of God's rules. Yet they are all perfectly legal. What about divorce? Only God is allowed to dissolve a marriage so why don't you work hard to get divorce banned? Why do you get to pick and choose the parts of the Bible you care about?

  5. Look at the bright side. With the new Lowe's call center, that means 1000 jobs at $10 bucks an hour. IMS has to be drooling over all that disposable income. If those employees can save all their extra money after bills, in five years they can go to the race LIVE. Can you say attendance boost?