Yua: Henri Matisse and the In­ner Arc­tic Spirit

Heard Mu­seum

Inuit Art Quarterly - - HIGHLIGHTS -

In the fi­nal decade of his life, along­side fa­mous pa­per cut-outs and de­signs for the Chapelle du Ro­saire de Vence, cel­e­brated French artist Henri Matisse was com­mis­sioned by his son-in-law Ge­orges Duthuit to il­lus­trate a book on Arc­tic peo­ples. The in­vi­ta­tion to pro­duce three draw­ings re­sulted in over 50 works based on Duthuit’s col­lec­tion of Yup’ik masks. A new ex­hi­bi­tion at the Heard Mu­seum, co-cu­rated by Sean Mooney and Yup’ik el­der Chuna McIn­tyre, brings to­gether Matisse’s work along­side the once sep­a­rated ob­jects to ex­am­ine the sur­pris­ing points of con­tact be­tween these two dis­tinct his­to­ries. Be­low, Mooney re­flects on the im­por­tance of re­unit­ing these masks and their re­la­tion­ship to the canon­i­cal fig­ure:

This ex­hi­bi­tion builds on the work I’ve been do­ing over the years on Yup’ik masks from Alaska, specif­i­cally in try­ing to re­store the tra­di­tion of the mated pairs and groups. When these pieces were col­lected at the end of the nine­teenth cen­tury, they were scat­tered around to dif­fer­ent mu­se­ums and col­lec­tions. They were im­me­di­ately sep­a­rated from their con­text as masks that were per­formed in groups and pairs as part of the struc­ture of the dance. I’ve been slowly try­ing to re­unite these pairs in ex­hi­bi­tions and projects like this.

We’re go­ing to be see­ing a lot of Yup’ik ma­te­rial that be­longed to Duthuit, which Matisse would have seen when he was asked to do these draw­ings. We know Matisse was fa­mil­iar with this work and there is doc­u­mented cor­re­spon­dence be­tween him and his daugh­ter Mar­guerite Duthuit about see­ing the masks and his re­sponse to them. Matisse’s draw­ing process was such that he started with a por­trait-like im­age and then re­worked the draw­ing many times un­til it got to a point where they were so sim­pli­fied that he re­ferred to them as masks.

Ul­ti­mately, this be­came an op­por­tu­nity to present al­most two ex­hi­bi­tions at once: one about the Matisse ma­te­rial and the other about the Yup’ik masks. And to cre­ate a point of con­tact be­tween them.

– Sean Mooney


BE­LOW (MID­DLE) Cen­tral Alaskan Yup’ik dance mask rep­re­sent­ing the Moon Woman(c. 1870)


BE­LOW (LEFT) Henri Matisse’s litho­graph Esquimau (c. 1947) from Ge­orges Duthuit’s Une Fête en Cim­mérie (1963)

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