In May 1953, the Alexander Iolas Gallery in New York mounted an exhibition of recent work by the Chilean Surrealist Roberto Matta. Titled Rome, 1949-1953, the show presented seventeen abstract paintings created after the artist’s relocation from the United States to Italy. This display, drawn entirely from the Menil’s permanent holdings, reunites a group of paintings from the 1953 exhibition. The hallucinatory landscapes and cosmic spaces filled with eerie, organic shapes in off-key, fluorescent colors bring together Matta’s interest in physics and relativity. He felt that art must delve into the metaphysical questions of human existence, in part as a reaction to the horrors of World War II.
In a review of the 1953 exhibition, one critic described the paintings as “visions of chaos, the world exploding at Armageddon,” with “shapes and paint spatterings darting up and down the picture surface like dive-bombers.” 1953 also marked the beginning of the de Menils’ close involvement with the artist. On May 5 of that year, Iolas wrote to the couple: “I have just opened the Matta exhibition, I’ve reserved the most beautiful painting for you.” They immediately purchased The Apple Becomes Morning and soon acquired four more paintings from the show and two from the same body of work. The de Menils became some of Matta’s most important champions in the United States, even bringing him to Houston in 1965.