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Museums and the Web

An annual conference exploring the social, cultural, design, technological, economic, and organizational issues of culture, science and heritage on-line.

Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913–1917


The Art Institute of Chicago


A collaboration of in-house staff and Slate Roof Studio




Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913–1917 explores how Matisse developed his own version of Modernism, one work after the next, during the most ambitious, unbridled, and radically inventive period of his long career.

Co-organized by the Art Institute of Chicago and The Museum of Modern Art, New York, the exhibition was curated by Stephanie D’Alessandro, Gary C. and Frances Comer Curator of Modern Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, and John Elderfield, Chief Curator Emeritus of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

To illuminate the themes of the exhibition, the Art Institute developed what turned out to be a very popular in-gallery interactive presentation focused on two works with particularly rich histories, Bathers by a River and Back.  When Matisse first painted the iconic Bathers by a River, it was a decorative, pastoral image. Over the course of several years Matisse radically revised this monumental canvas. Similarly, Matisse re-worked the bronze sculpture Back over the course of 23 years. Using complex conservation techniques to establish images of the various revisions, the research team deciphered the artist’s transformation by examining the different ‘states’ of his works over the years covered by the exhibition.

The Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913–1917 Web site provides unique access to the research allowing self-guided exploration of the two major works. Interactive new media is particularly appropriate because it allows a visitor to delve deeper into comparing revisions of these works.  The site lets the visitor compare different states of Bathers by a River and Back using overlays, three-dimensional models, examination of paint layers, and more, while also offering explanations and comparative images authored by the curators.  A third section features video excerpts of the artist himself at work from the documentary A Great French Painter, Henri Matisse, 1946.

During the exhibition, a version of this Web site was installed on two 24” Apple iMac computer kiosks mirrored to 30” Apple Displays in the exhibition’s reading room.   It was not uncommon to find pairs of visitors spending 20-30 minutes reading and interacting with the kiosks. The Web site reflects the entire gallery presentation, albeit in a smaller format, and will remain on the Art Institute’s Web site long after the show has closed.