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CANCELED: Matisse’s Cut-Outs Inspire Performance at Mills College

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Henri Matisse, detail from the series 'Jazz Suite,' 1947; Pochoir on paper; Gift of Wells Fargo. (Courtesy of Mills College Art Museum)

This performance has been postponed, with hopes of rescheduling for a date in May. The exhibition of Matisse’s artwork remains on view in Slide Space 123 Gallery. For more, see here.

It’s a story of art inspiring art inspiring art. Henrí Matisse’s joyful paper compositions, which the artist began making in the 1940s with painted paper and a pair of scissors, inform an afternoon performance at the Mills College Art Museum featuring choreographer Molissa Fenley, poet Bob Holman and composer Keith Patchel.

Where to start untangling this web of associations? Let’s begin with Holman, founder of New York’s Bowery Poetry Club and the author of 17 poetry collections. Inspired by Matisse’s work, he wrote the 2017 chapbook The Cutouts (Matisse), poetic descriptions of and extrapolations from the artist’s final years of work.

Then, composer Patchel set the suite of poems to music, creating a “songspiel” that includes lines like “snip, snip” and “Time for lunch, Henri / So eat your breakfast / Blue apple / Green coffee / Yellow fingers,” sometimes sung, sometimes spoken, to a background of spare piano and strings.

Enter Fenley (a Mills alum), a choreographer, performer and longtime Holman collaborator, to bring the whole thing into three-dimensional, bodily space. In an earlier performance of The Cut-Outs at Stanford’s Anderson Collection, Fenley embodied the angular poses of the figures in Matisse’s Jazz suite, freeing them from their static stances with graceful, sweeping gestures.


And as a bonus to all this live, person-to-person transmission of Matisse’s works, the college’s own Jazz Suite prints will be on display in Slide Space 123 Gallery, just a short walk from the performance space in Rothwell Theater, on view March 13–15. –Sarah Hotchkiss

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