During the 1996 Games, I spent my summer days stationed at various posts throughout the High directing weary visitors to the bathrooms and the cafe and, more often than not, listening to complaints about the Museum's need (in the 90s) for more bathrooms.
But amidst the controlled chaos, many visitors did take time to savor the masterpieces on view as part of J. Carter Brown Jr.'s exhibition, Rings: Five Passions in World Art. This show was skewered by The New York Times for a lack of intellectual heft. My view, though, is that people who will never travel to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg had the opportunity to see Matisse's large-scale Dance of 1909-10.
[Image copyright ©2003 State Hermitage Museum]
[Contantin Brancusi, The Kiss, 1916. Limestone, Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950. © 2004 Artists Rights Society]
Not to mention a cross-section of iconic ancient and modern works from artists including Brancusi, Sotatsu, Rembrandt, and Caravaggio, as well as Persian miniatures. And Rings paved the way for two landmark High exhibitions, Matisse followed soon after by Picasso. Both highlighted masterworks from MOMA.
It's hard to choose a favorite Matisse, but one painting that makes my short list is The Red Studio, shown here at the top. In terms of the progression of modern art, it is significant because, as MOMA explains, "the room's architecture and furnishings are indicated only by negative gaps in the red surface" and the artworks appear in color.
Those of us preoccupied with interior design also immediately think of other aspects when we look at this painting: how red can work as a neutral, (work with all other colors) and how much impact art has when set against rich, deep walls -- whether in reality or fantasy.
[A past incarnation of India Hicks' island master bedroom photographed by Arthur Elgort as seen in Vogue, 1998]