Critics’ Picks

Mercedes Matter, Self Portrait, 1929, oil on canvas, 
16 x 12".

New York

Mercedes Matter

Sidney Mishkin Gallery, Baruch College
135 East 22nd Street
October 30–December 14

Viewing Mercedes Matter’s extensive body of work in this retrospective makes it difficult to resist the urge to read her oeuvre according to her biography. The extraordinary circumstances surrounding Matter’s life allowed her to befriend and work in proximity to some of this century’s most pivotal figures: She lived with her parents in Edward Steichen’s Parisian villa, for instance, and studied closely with Hans Hofmann in New York, two experiences that gave her full exposure to a time and place when modern art had become, in this city, both an artistic movement and a social milieu. She went on to found the city’s Studio School, an institution critical in the education of artists from its inception, in 1963, to today.

Beyond biography, this exhibition argues for the significance of Matter’s own studio practice, which is one that mirrors and builds on the evolution of postwar abstraction. While her earlier works, such as a self-portrait from 1929, evoke clear comparisons to iconic artists––namely, in this instance, Picasso––later pieces evince a clear and focused synthesis of her privileged avant-garde surroundings. Still-Life with Skulls, 1978–1998, one of several large charcoal drawings that Matter worked on extensively toward the end of her life, breaks with both the relative clarity and the nuances of influence visible in her earlier work, as shadowed forms meld into one another, producing an angular heap that becomes overwhelming in the force of its impact and the sparseness of its tone. Viewing the development of Matter’s output in this focused way allows for consideration of her own prolific career as being equally important to the canonical figures who surrounded her.