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The Matisse WebShare

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Developing an exhibition always requires an intense amount of collaboration, but the groundbreaking research involved in the museum’s massive spring exhibition, Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913–1917, pushed us to use new technical tools. For the exhibition, curators and conservators approached Matisse’s work like a forensic case, closely examining the artist’s working methods, experimental techniques, and compositional choices—all of which required extensive historical, scientific, and technical research. These were shared efforts undertaken by the co-organizers of the exhibition, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

This research produced literally volumes of information, and curator Stephanie D’Alessandro at the Art Institute recognized the challenge of keeping the research team informed of one another’s complex and sophisticated work, which included hi-res composite images of x-rays of paintings, infrared photographs, three-dimensional modeling, and even algorithmic restructurings of paintings from old photographs. And curators and conservators both in Chicago and New York needed to have complete and immediate access to all of this material.

To facilitate this research collaboration, the Art Institute set up a “Matisse WebShare.” The WebShare allowed curators and conservators to securely share large image files via the Internet from any place in the world. Many of these images were huge unwieldy files—some so large they can’t be opened on a standard desktop computer. To make this material accessible, we used a tool called Zoomify, which allows quick microscope-like access to the images. Kristin Lister, a paintings conservator at the Art Institute, noted that using Zoomify on the WebShare revealed information she would have not otherwise seen—a clear case of science serving art.

The Matisse WebShare was so successful that we have since set up other WebShares to facilitate collaboration for exhibitions and scholarly publications. You’ll find much of this “evidence” in the forthcoming catalog and upcoming exhibition, which opens on March 20th and promises to be one of the definitive exhibitions on Matisse.