Matisse: In Search of True Painting is the first temporary exhibition I've experienced at the Met since moving to New York. I found many contrasts between the design of the 19th century galleries and this exhibition that expose some of the challenges of designing an temporary experience.
Unfortunately, regulations regarding photography at this particular exhibit prevented me from capturing photos of specific elements. So you are stuck reading about my evaluation!
Much like the 19th century galleries, the name of the Matisse exhibit encapsulates the idea of the exhibition, to showcase the works of Matisse. Interestingly, the exhibition seemed to focus on the evolution of Matisse and his works.
The design of the exhibition hall leaves a lot to be desired. I found myself distracted by specific elements of the space and felt these elements impacted my perception of the works. Given these constraints, the installation felt successful. The linear display Matisse's work from early paintings to the the point he retired was a great way to showcase the progression and changes in his work over time.
In many ways the exhibition space hindered my perspective of the topic. It was clear that the exhibition was designed for 'one-way' traffic, this seems common for temporary exhibits where a large guest flow is expected. The 'no re-entry' sign at the exit confirmed this suspicion. Architectural elements lead me to (falsely) believe that I was entering another exhibit half way through the experience.
In particular, the look and feel of this exhibition was very claustrophobic. Likely due to limitations of the building, the ceilings are very low in the first half of the exhibition, making the space feel tight and uncomfortable. Half way through the space (and I imagine transitioning into a different building) the ceilings raise dramatically by 25 feet or more. The space change, along with jarringly different lighting and color schemes in the room that transitions to the other gallery was confusing.
The flooring in this exhibition hall was also distracting. The gray industrial carpet did not take to the New York winter well; and the squat but wide rooms caused it to become a jarring element of the space. Again with the celling, the inclusion of the wood border around the track lighting was a smart choice, reducing the amount of glare from the MR-16 lamp reflectors. Many walls included distracting elements like sensors and thermostats randomly assorted around. Why are these on walls in an art gallery?
The graphic design was decent, easy to read and clear titles summarized the text below. I found that they were significant in helping me understand the flow of the exhibition and context of the different areas.
If I were to change the interpretation of the content, I would keep the same linear flow but make changes to the lighting of the room in between the two building areas and try to adjust the lighting in the entire exhibition to eliminate bleed onto the celling and carpet as much as possible. I realize that many of my issues with this exhibition are related to the physical space. With temporary exhibitions I imagine there isn't always time or budget to make modifications to these components.
One thing I wouldn't change?
Exiting into the gift shop.