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Matisse: The Beginning for Some, The End for Others


Recent visitors to the Modern Wing may have noticed that one of the highlights of the modern collection has been off view. Henri Matisse’s Bathers by a River has been deinstalled from the permanent collection galleries so that it can be incorporated into the Art Institute’s landmark exhibition Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913–1917, which opened to the public on March 20.

Installing a special exhibition takes a large team that includes a complex cast of characters, including, but not limited to: the exhibition curator, exhibition manager, research assistants, museum registrars, conservators, carpenters, painters, electricians, lighting specialists, art installers and packers, and exhibition, web, and graphic designers. As the manager for this exhibition, I have the great privilege of being in the center of the culmination of a project that has taken over five years to organize.

What the public doesn’t see is the carefully orchestrated chaos that brought together 115 works from private and public collections in 9 countries. 29 couriers with 64 crates in 24 shipments arrived in the first two weeks of March, spurring the work of packers and art handlers opening crates, conservators writing condition reports, and curators placing works of art. Other staff will adjust lighting, touch up paint, make final revisions to wall text and labels, place graphic materials, and install computers and monitors featuring our conservation research. While the focus of Matisse: Radical Invention is of course the art, all of these details are necessary to show the exhibition in its best light.

Installation is the most exciting and labor-intensive time for all of us who have been dedicated to this exhibition. The most satisfying part of the project is showing off the final product—and the hard work of many—to the public. I hope you’ll see the show before it closes on June 20, and please do tell us what you think. Your feedback is invaluable to us!

—Jennifer P., Departmental Exhibitions Manager, Medieval to Modern European Painting and Sculpture