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Gershwin’s Eye

The Baker Museum Exhibition Lecture

Signature Event Space

Mar 13, 2:00pm
Signature Event Space 2:00pm
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The Baker Museum presents
Gershwin’s Eye

Olivia Mattis, Ph.D., curator

George Gershwin — the legendary composer of An American in ParisRhapsody in BlueThe Man I LovePorgy and Bess and so much more — had a refined musical ear. But audiences are unaware that he also had an eye — as both a collector and a practitioner of art. Gershwin acquired masterpieces by Picasso, Modigliani, Chagall, Kandinsky and other modern masters, and he himself made paintings, drawings and stunning photographs, such as his deeply-felt Self-portrait with Irving Berlin. Many composers throughout history have had synaesthesia — seeing colors when certain musical chords are struck. For the French composer Olivier Messiaen, a certain tone combination would appear to him as “a yellowish orange with a reddish tinge.” Jazz legend Duke Ellington, composer of Mood Indigo and the Black and Tan Fantasy, referred to his band as his palette and his performances as paintings. How does George Gershwin fit into this lineage? In short, how “blue” is the Rhapsody? This talk takes a tour through Gershwin's visual dimension to open up new ways of thinking about the composer and his creative impulses.

This presentation is part of the exhibition George Gershwin and Modern Art.

Olivia Mattis

Olivia Mattis

Dr. Olivia Mattis is the guest curator of the landmark Artis—Naples exhibition George Gershwin and Modern Art — A Rhapsody in Blue and the author of the accompanying catalogue (Scala Publishing, 2024). She is an award-winning musicologist specializing in links between music and the visual arts. She co-edited (with the art historian James Rubin) Rival Sisters, Art and Music at the Birth of Modernism, 1815-1915 (Routledge/Ashgate, 2014) and co-authored (with a team of art historians) Visual Music: Synaesthesia in Art and Music Since 1900 (Thames and Hudson, 2005). She holds a Ph.D. in musicology from Stanford University and a B.A. in music from Yale University. Her nationally touring exhibition Gershwin to Gillespie: Portraits in American Music, curated for the George Eastman House Museum of Photography and Film, featured fifty portraits of famous American musicians by famous American photographers. Quite apart from her musicological work she is President of the Sousa Mendes Foundation, a Holocaust remembrance organization devoted to the hero who rescued her family and thousands of others from Nazi-occupied Europe in 1940.


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