Q&A with Katy Rothkopf

Curator of the Matisse/Diebenkorn Exhibit at the BMA

In October, the BMA will present the first major exhibition to show the profound influence of French artist Henri Matisse (1869–1954) on the work of American artist Richard Diebenkorn (1922–1993). Co-organized with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, this ambitious exhibition builds on the BMA’s reputation for presenting new scholarship on Matisse inspired by the collection. More than 90 artworks—most loaned from museums and private collections in the U.S. and Europe— will reveal Diebenkorn’s deep connection to Matisse, and present a new view of both artists.

Senior Curator of European Painting & Sculpture Katy Rothkopf tells us about her work on this landmark exhibition.

What inspired this exhibition?
When I began to think about the influence of Matisse on subsequent generations, the first artist that came to mind was Diebenkorn, whose work I knew from The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. I began to explore the idea more seriously after seeing two drawings by each artist in the BMA’s collection, which were very similar yet created 40 years apart. Although the influence of Matisse on Diebenkorn had often been discussed in art literature, their works had never been presented together in a major exhibition.

Were you surprised by anything you found in your research?
Thanks to a wonderful colleague at the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey, we were sent a copy of a letter that Diebenkorn wrote to a graduate student in 1981 where he described all of his most important interactions with Matisse’s work starting in the 1940s. It confirmed that Diebenkorn had come to see the Cone Collection in Baltimore.

How would you describe Diebenkorn’s art?
Diebenkorn was unusual in that he effortlessly moved from abstraction to representation and back to abstraction over the course of a long and successful career. His paintings are beautiful and compelling because of his experimentation with color and structure in both his abstract and representational works.

Can you give us some examples of Matisse’s influence on Diebenkorn?
Both artists loved color and composed paintings that explore the space where an interior and exterior meet within a window or doorway. Diebenkorn was also fascinated with the idea of flattening space and told his students to paint flat like Matisse.

What aspect of this exhibition are you most excited about?
The BMA’s exhibition will allow visitors to see Diebenkorn’s journey as he discovered Matisse, while juxtaposing his work with some of Matisse’s greatest paintings. Seeing how they look together side-by-side is going to be a thrill.

This exhibition is co-organized by The Baltimore Museum of Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art Generously sponsored by The Henry Luce Foundation, Terra Foundation for American Art, and Ellen W. P. Wasserman. Additional support provided by Jeanette C. and Stanley H. Kimmel and the National Endowment for the Arts. This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

Click here for more information about the exhibit.