Paige Dansinger takes back the odalisque

Categories: Art
Thumbnail image for harmonyinred.jpg
By Paige Dansinger, inspired by Reclining Odalisque (Harmony in Red), Henri Matisse, 1927
Visual artist, art historian, and social media and technology innovator Paige Dansinger opens her first solo show tonight at SOOlocal with works re-imagining Henri Matisse's odalisque paintings -- with herself as the model. In "Harmony in Red: New Portraits by Paige Dansinger," the artist hopes to reveal the power of femininity and vulnerability.

By Paige Dansinger, inspired by Odalisque with Raised Arms, Henri Matisse, 1923 
After World War I, Henri Matisse embarked on a new series of paintings called The Odalisques, inspired in part by his travels to Morocco. "Odalisques" refer to a Turkish female slave or concubine in a harem. The works depicted nude ladies lounging, dressed in elaborate costumes, and surrounded by decorative props and fabrics. In many ways the pieces echoed 19th century French "orientalist" paintings which, according to Dansinger, was a way of showing European hierarchy and world dominance over "the other." At the time, critics universally panned Mattisse's odalisque series, saying they were simplistic as he wasn't painting subjects concerning war or life and death. From the 1950s through the '90s, art historians and feminists alike looked down on the odalisques, the latter of which because they felt he took the feminine and turned it into a decorative motif. 

But wait! Not so fast. Look again. Contrary to feminist critics' notion that the odalisque models are lounging around waiting to be penetrated, Dansinger argues that the women are actually powerful through their beauty and their vulnerability. "Women are more powerful than you believe," she says. "I want to take back the night. I want to take back the odalisque."

By Paige Dansinger, inspired by Odalisque with Green Scarf, Henri Matisse, 1926 
Dansinger notes that the word "harmony" appears in many of Matisse's titles. In contrast to Picasso's apparent anger in paintings like Guernica, Matisse reacted to World War I in a much more reflective manner. She feels you can take the apparent weakness of the women in the odalisques and own it. "It becomes your power symbol. It can become your own personal triumph," she says.  

For her first solo show, Dansinger decided to take on the subject of femininity, and how she relates to herself as a woman. "I would just go deep inside, and use whatever vulnerability I had to make it my power," she says. "That's something women have a gift of doing."

She draws inspiration from Matisse's odalisque paintings, particularly Reclining Odalisque (Harmony in Red), and other odalisques at the Met in New York City, where she recently spent some time drawing, observing, and thinking. 

Dasinger's work as an artist and an art historian have always been in conversation. "My visual art is wrapped up in scholarly work," she says. She has a masters in art history, and worked at the MIA for seven years, but took some time off a year ago to focus on her own art and build relationships with other museums, as well as getting her artwork out there.

By Paige Dansinger, inspired by Reclining Odalisque (Harmony in Red), Henri Matisse, 1927
The next step in her career path includes making digital experiences and games for museums. Over the last year, Dansinger has developed a program, called #DrawArt, where she draws famous art in museums on her iPhone or iPad, and uses social media to get the pieces seen. Besides the actual image, the project also includes a digital video that's part of the app. Museums often re-tweet it her posts, which has gotten her quite a following, and as a result she has been named an Artist to Follow on Instagram on She also was featured in a show at the Guggenheim. 

In addition to the 20 paintings Dansinger will be showing in the exhibition, she'll also have a collection of ceramic plates inspired by Turkish pottery. On Tuesday, August 27, from 6 to 8 p.m., Dansinger will team up with Joan Vorderbruggen of Artists in Storfronts to re-create a modern view of Harmony in Red. She'll pose in the window of SOOlocal modeled as an odalisque, and draw herself on her iPad, which will be uploaded to a screen. Others will be invited to make their own drawings of Dansinger from outside, and tweet their images to #harmonyinred. 


"Harmony in Red- New Portraits by Paige Dansinger"
3506 Nicollet Ave. S., Minneapolis
There will be an opening reception 7 to 10 p.m. Friday, August 16
The exhibit runs through September 15, with the #DrawArt Live event on August 27

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3506 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis, MN

Category: General

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