Matisse: In Search of True Painting

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

I enjoyed this exhibition because the subject matter was so focused. It was not a random sample of Matisse paintings through the years, but rather a careful selection with a meaningful progression. I chose to listen to the audio tour — which made the exhibit much more interesting. The clear auditory directions allowed me to listen while keeping my eyes on the art. Because of the connections and linear storyline through Matisse’s life, I think this may be my favorite art exhibition dedicated to one artist.

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What do you think is the exhibition’s main idea or purported purpose?

To take the learner on a journey through the progress of Henri Matisse from mimicking other artists styles to developing his own by comparing multiple versions and studies that led to his finished works of art.

How well does the exhibition’s design convey that main idea or purpose?

It does a great job. The curator obviously cared a lot about finding the right pieces to show the connections between the paintings. I noticed that most works, even the ones that were of the same subject and painted at the same time were lent by different collectors and museums.  It was such a treat to have the story collected for us and told to in this manner.

Decipher and write down the exhibition’s basic content outline as you walk through it.

Matisse’s still life’s show the artist experimenting with different styles, often painting the same subject in different ways to experiment. As we move through the exhibit we see examples of his fluctuation between classic painting styles and tests of styles that will eventually define him. We hear about where he traveled and the history of the subjects and objects in the paintings. Most interestingly, displayed in the last few rooms are paintings that he had photographed multiple times while he was completing them. The journey is heightened by seeing that the first stages of the paintings themselves transition from a traditional style of painting to his signature style- on the same canvas.

How do you think the designers interpreted the content you outlined?

They took the selected works and told a story with them. There was appropriate text explaining the significance of each group of paintings. Each gallery added to the flow of the story- offering more insights with deeper evidence of the transformation of his style.

Did the design contribute to an enhanced perspective on the topic of the exhibition?  Did the exhibition reveal new information or insights for you? Were you incented to learn more afterward?

The layout of the space definitely helped the flow of information. Placing like paintings on the same wall and similar time periods in the room allowed for comparison of similarities and differences. Previous to this exhibition I knew Matisse for his simple more abstract style – but here you can see his traditional background and history. I wish that the paintings with the progress photos were available online because yes, I do want to learn more.

What was the exhibition’s “look & feel” and how did it contribute to the main ideas or purpose of the exhibition?

Entering the exhibit you are presented with a singular blue wall with a large block of text and a blown up digital vinyl print to the left. Then, throughout the exhibit paintings are grouped with foam board blocks of text to the side of them. I enjoyed the look of the entrance, but I felt that it didn’t fit the exhibit very well. I would have preferred something that looked more intimate. After all, the exhibit is about a journey through not only Matisse’s paintings but through his inspirations and influences.

How would you characterize the contributions of 3D, graphic, media, and lighting design? Were any of these design elements outstanding–or lacking?

The exhibit  was well lit and the copy was appropriate. I enjoyed the amount of information presented, and like I said, the audio tour made it perfect. I would have preferred the copy printed on the foam board to have been placed differently. It was typically presented in a corner so that people to standing in front of it blocked the view of the adjacent paintings. It may have been more successful to have been placed on a stand in front of the paintings, to allow only paintings on the wall.

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How might you have approached interpreting the content differently through the design of this exhibition?

I would have liked a more defining statement at the beginning. The first painting on view is a very traditional still life, and the last is the Large Red Interior- two very different paintings. I would have been more instantly drawn in if, instead of a large vinyl photograph, I was presented with the two paintings and an invitation to take the journey between them. The other large photograph reproductions, especially the one showing the original presentation of the paintings in Paris, would have been more successful at their original size (small frame) in a glass case, not blown up with modern techniques.

How would you characterize the role of design in this institution, based on this exhibition?

The curator must have had a lot of control in this project, but the design was simple, and it needed to be.

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