The Museum of Modern Art's 1951 exhibition of paintings, sculptures, and drawings by French artist Henri Matisse nearly didn't happen. In this recording, broadcast over WNYC on the evening of November 15, 1951 (and with the artist's son in the audience), museum officials discussed the trouble the museum had in receiving the artworks and the importance of the materials presented.
Due to a pier strike in November, crates of art treasures sat unpacked on the docks in New York City until an eleventh hour settlement allowed museum workers access to materials. Staff worked through the night to mount the exhibition, which was scheduled to open less than 24 hours after the pieces were delivered.
Opening the program, Nelson Rockefeller, the then-president of MoMA, thanked museum workers for making the exhibition happen in such a short period of time and acknowledged the vast influence of France over the art world.
The Director of Collections at MoMA, Alfred H. Barr, then spoke on the international significance of Matisse's art, in particular a handful of specific paintings on view in the galleries: "The Woman with a Hat" (pictured above), drawings from Alfred Steiglitz's gallery, "The Blue Nude," "The Girl with Green Eyes," "The Red Studio," "The Young Sailor," "The Goldfish," and "The Woman on a High Stool."
"When one remembers the fury these paintings and sculptures once aroused," Barr said, "it is curious to recall that, at that time, Matisse stated that he was 'dreaming of an art of balance and serenity, devoid of troubling subject matter, an appeasing and soothing influence, something like a good arm chair in which to rest after a hard day's work.'"
Barr went on to tell stories of how Matisse's work was received by Adolf Hitler. "What is it about these paintings that so disturbs dictators?" he asked.
Almost fifty years later, in honor of an exhibition opening at the Jewish Museum, "Collecting Matisse and Modern Masters: the Cones Sisters of Baltimore," curator Karen Levitov spoke with Leonard Lopate about Matisse's work.
Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection.
Bonus: Listen to the Guggenheim's Mimi Poser discuss MoMA's 1978 Matisse retrospective with its curator.