One day last week I went to the Museum of Modern Art specifically to see “Matisse: The Red Studio,” their new exhibition. The show is named after a groundbreaking 1911 painting by Henri Matisse: a depiction of his own studio, which is literally strewn with other works he’d created up to that date. At MoMA, the famous painting is surrounded by those other paintings and sculptures in one room, while another room traces the journey the painting took from Matisse’s actual studio to MoMA.
I also got a preview glimpse of the new room-sized Barbara Kruger installation, “Thinking of You. I Mean Me. I Mean You,” which opens to the public today and is destined to be immortalized in thousands of Instagram selfies and TikTok shorts . (A major Barbara Kruger exhibition remains on view at David Zwirner in Chelsea.)
And then I rounded a corner, and was stopped dead in my tracks by something unexpected.
“Frédéric Bruly Bouabré: World Unbound” is the first-ever US museum exhibition devoted to the visionary artist from Côte d’Ivoire. Bouabré was born in 1923 and died in 2014, and spent his career pursuing themes of equality and mutual understanding through his art — up to and including the invention of a new graphic-based language system.
The gallery is lined with dozens and dozens of small, colorful sketches, which are both childlike and sophisticated at once. (Be forewarned, one small section devoted to images of… anatomical intersection, let’s say, is decidedly NSFW.) And in one more special touch, everywhere you go you hear the sound of Bouabré’s voice, emerging from speakers that play his voice enunciating the sounds of his utopian alphabet. The show is magical. Through August 13th; moma.org
Bassist Reid Anderson and drummer Dave King hail from Minnesota, and in 1989 they got together with Wisconsin pianist Ethan Iverson in a trio that soon would be famous as The Bad Plus. You might even say notorious: All three band members were formidable composers. But what The Bad Plus became best known for was quirky, idiosyncratic covers of pop and rock hits: “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Heart of Glass,” “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” and so on.
When Iverson left the group in 2017, Anderson and King hired another pianist, Orrin Evans. They made two strong records, but then disbanded last year.
The band’s new album, coming out on September 30th, is simply titled “The Bad Plus,” and it’s a reset in more than just name: Instead of a new pianist, Anderson and King have recruited saxophonist Chris Speed and guitarist Ben Monder.
Speed and King have played together in a few different bands recently, including Speed’s own trio. And Ben Monder has been in the neighborhood at least since Reid Anderson’s fantastic solo album “The Vastness of Space,” released in 2000.
But it’s more than history, it’s chemistry: These players sound great together. And if what Anderson and King are saying in keeping the name is that The Bad Plus had as much to do with their writing and their collective sound as any specific players or instruments, the music on their upcoming album supports that view. You can hear them in action every week at the Blue Note jazz club on West 3rd Street. July 19th-24th at 8 and 10:30 pm; bluenotejazz.com