Dimly lit, overcrowded, noisy and lots of queuing. No, this isn’t a battery hen farm or the ladies loos at a busy night club on a Saturday night, it’s the first week of the Matisse Cut Outs at the Tate Modern.
Yesterday, the sun was shining and the street food sellers and foodie trucks which have descended on the area gave SE1 a carnival feel, while the norms of the skate park and book sellers stalwartly remained in place. Now a huge tourist magnet, the South Bank was heaving. The relentless crowds were not helped by building work creating a pedestrian-cum-road block between the Tate Modern and Waterloo, but it’s hard not to enjoy the whole area, especially when a low tide leaves a huge sandy play area for kids on the edges of the shrunken Thames.
So back to the imposing behemoth that’s the Tate Modern, I’m disappointed for purely selfish reasons, but not surprised that this big crowd-pleaser of an exhibition was jam packed. Elbow to elbow with visitors, many wearing audio headsets, it felt like a bun fight to just get a view of any of the work. This didn’t seem to be the Matisse which I know and love, it’s all late work but the setting saps the vibrancy and soul of it. There’s a lot to see. Most of the cut outs on display were duplicated as print works and there was a lot of hand-written text too but with such large crowds, it’s hard to take it all in let alone ruminate over a striking piece of work.
Crowds aside, I’ve heard rave reviews on the radio and read some articles which are incandescent with praise but I have to say the work doesn’t travel well. It was a vastly different experience from the Musée Matisse in France, a place which I have very fond memories of visiting. The exhibition rooms were not fully lit, lending a grimy edge to colours which are almost lurid in natural light. The larger work would have worked much better in the turbine hall to give them the space they deserve but I think Tate Britain would have been a more appropriate setting for a London exhibition.
Not one to give up on a favourite artist, I’m going to go back to a much less crowded private view (I hope) and give it a second chance, it’ll be much cheaper than flying back to Nice. The great consolation prize was the Richard Hamilton on the third floor, definitely not one to miss.
And no, I’m not sharing any photos of the Matisse show because the security was so tight I couldn’t sneak any in for fear of being unceremoniously thrown out…pah!