After my grandmother’s funeral on Sunday, I stopped back at her apartment for one last look, and I was reminded of the following story:
Twenty years ago, the Museum of Modern Art in New York hosted a retrospective of the modern art icon Henri Matisse. It was a blockbuster exhibition – completely sold out, with scalpers in front selling tickets for several times face value (“Yo, I got Matisse! 10:30am! Matisse! Get your Matisse! Only 50 dollahs!) I had heard rumors of fake tickets being sold, so I was wary. The only other way to get tickets was to buy a membership to MOMA. Not a problem, except the line to do so was about two hours long. Outside. In January. In Manhattan.
I was bummed. I do not accept defeat easily. I lingered inside the entrance to the museum, contemplating my options, when I heard a woman say to her companion, “Well, maybe someone outside wants them.” I quickly spun around and asked, “Are you trying to get rid of tickets?” She replied, “We have two tickets we can’t use – if you want them, they’re yours.” She refused to accept any money for them – she had gotten them for free and didn’t think it was fair to charge for them. I thanked her profusely, and it was at that moment that I decided to do nice things for total strangers whenever I would have the opportunity (and I do so to this day).
I went outside and found a lovely woman who was also alone and trying to get a ticket. I gave her my other ticket and we happily entered the museum together. In a movie, this would have led to a romance, but we soon parted ways amidst the throngs of people.
The exhibition was extraordinary – the most comprehensive collection of Matisse’s work ever assembled. 400 works of art covering 64 years of output, with pieces from museums all over the world, including some that had never been in the U.S. before. Rarely has an exhibition been assembled that so completely chronicled a master’s work.
As I exited the museum, I ventured into the gift shop and bought Henri Matisse: A Retrospective: a beautiful hardcover book covering the entire exhibition. The next day, on my way to the airport, I stopped at my grandmother’s apartment and gave it to her as an early 80th birthday present. She loved it.
I found that book yesterday, packed away in a box in her living room. As I flipped through it, I found that three pages had been ripped out… and Scotch taped back in. I was slightly appalled. Then I turned around. Sure enough, the works on those three pages matched three paintings that she had painted in the years after I gave her the book, and they now hung on her walls. Photos of her versions of those three paintings are below (click to enlarge). If you look closely, you will see her signature on each one. Considering that Matisse also created art until his early 80s, I think he would be proud.
I brought the Matisse book home to Los Angeles today, where its bright yellow spine glows amongst my art book collection in my living room. It’s my own little shrine to the woman who inspired my lifelong love of art.