From Matisse/Picasso to Degas/Cassatt: The Rise of the Post-Monographic Two-Artist Exhibition
Ruth E. Iskin
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Sheva
Proceeding from but also breaking with the single artist retrospective that developed in the nineteenth century, a new type of museum exhibition emerged in the late twentieth century whose focus is on a sustained exploration of the artistic relationship between two masters: influence and inspiration, affinities and differences, dialogue, competition, etc. Prominent early examples include “Picasso and Braque: Pioneering Cubism” (MoMA, 1989) and “Matisse and Picasso: A Gentle Rivalry” (Kimbell Art Museum, 1999), and recent ones include the “Degas/Cassatt” exhibition at the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, “Munch + Van Gogh” at the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, and the Munch Museum, Oslo, and “Mapplethorpe-Rodin” at the Musée Rodin, Paris (all in 2014-15). Exhibitions of this sort are partly driven by the urge of major museums to generate broad audience appeal, motivating curators to create mega events – inter alia, by featuring not one but two big-name artists in a single exhibition. Such extra-artistic considerations notwithstanding, these exhibitions have resulted in a new type of art historical study that foregrounds the links that bind two artists – whether or not they ever actually worked closely together or even met. My paper proposes that this type of exhibition makes a significant contribution to art history that is not immediately evident and has not yet been fully acknowledged. In a discipline that has had a longstanding bias toward linear narratives premised on a unidirectional influence, the post-monographic exhibition, with its focus on dyadic artistic relationships, helped introduce a different paradigm: one that highlights two-way influences and dialogic bonds between artists. My paper fleshes out this argument, charting the context of such exhibitions and analyzing the issues involved – including, in particular, the role of gender in the art historical construction of artistic relationships – through a close look at the Degas/Cassatt exhibition and its accompanying scholarly catalogue.