Eyes-up experience for the joyous Matisse: Life & Spirit exhibition

Art Gallery of New South Wales

A young man wearing headphones and holding a mobile phone is sitting, and there's a young woman standing in the background, also wearing headphones and holding a phone..

With over 100 artworks spanning six decades, Matisse: Life & Spirit – Masterpieces from the Centre Pompidou, Paris is an explosion of colour and curves. The vision for the Art Gallery of New South Wales was to create a show that truly envelops visitors in the vitality of Matisse's works. It was our role, in collaboration with the Gallery, to produce an audio experience enhancing this feeling while adding a layer of understanding into the great artist's life and approaches.

Having collaborated on previous blockbuster exhibitions with the Gallery, Art Processors jumped into action to overcome the hurdles thrown at us by the COVID-19 pandemic. When restrictions finally lifted in Sydney, we were ready for the doors to open.

Using an in-house device or a simple download to their phone, visitors are guided by immersive pathways to explore the show however they want. Location-aware, the experience seamlessly tells the stories of Matisse's radical years, time in Tahiti, and designs for the Chapel of the Rosary. Accompanied by original music by Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab, the result is an intimate, hands-free, eyes-up experience. 


Challenge

The COVID-19 pandemic presented our two greatest challenges. Firstly, how to understand the feeling and flow of a space when much of the team couldn’t visit the Gallery during the development phase? And secondly, how do you keep visitors safe and confident throughout their time at a gallery?

A further challenge was the comprehensive display of artworks across so many rooms, making it difficult to delve into the detail of each piece while remaining immersive. To create an intimate experience, we needed to focus on the ambient themes of Matisse’s life and works, provided by the Gallery, to help visitors see and feel the bigger picture.

A young man and young woman with audio guides and headphones look up at Matisse's Blue Nude II.

AGNSW Matisse Life & Spirit exhibition images © Succession H. Matisse/Copyright Agency, 2022

Screenshot from the Matisse Life and Spirit audio app
Screenshot from the Matisse Life and Spirit audio app
Screenshot from the Matisse Life and Spirit audio app
Screenshot from the Matisse Life and Spirit audio app

Approach

To overcome the distance… We are a flexible, nimble organisation and have built a relationship based on trust with the digital team at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. We put in place digital tools such as Confluence to enable close collaboration and took advantage of regular video conferencing to set the strategic direction and agree on concepts virtually.

Our office was set up to mimic the exhibition so we could imagine the space and test performance, such as the placement of location aware beacons and the layered audio levels. Team members pivoted to cover each other’s roles, including our sales director who was in Sydney during the lockdown and was able to carry out the initial beacon installation with video support from our engineers. “It's the new way of working,” says Monica Zetlin, Art Processors Project Manager.

To keep people safe… Visitors can download the experience as an app onto their own phone ahead of their visit. As there are also in-house devices, we provided a set of fleet cleaning protocols. The individually-controlled nature of the experience enables people to socially distance themselves, especially as there’s no need to crowd around to read wall text.

To create an immersive experience… Our approach was to mix sonic and narrative interpretation in a hands-free, individual experience. “It’s a fusion of contemporary approaches to interpreting art. Layering narration and music in this way creates an intimate auditory experience,” explains Monica.

It’s completely down to each visitor how they travel around the exhibition and what they hear as they do so. They can listen to stories that focus on just a few moments of Matisse’s lifestyle and his work, of the commissioned music score interpreting the artwork, or both. The app is simple, elegant, and intuitive, giving the visitor the chance to appreciate artworks eyes-up while enhancing their understanding.

A young man wearing headphones sits and listens to the Matisse: Lift and Spirit audio guide, and there's a young woman standing in the background looking at one of Matisse's paintings.

AGNSW Matisse Life & Spirit exhibition images © Succession H. Matisse/Copyright Agency, 2022

Our responses to the unknowns of our new pandemic working life were solved with patience and talent, which the quality of the end product testifies to... [The team] were all super professional and responsive to our feedback and amendments.

– Francesca Ford,
   Manager of Digital Projects, Art Gallery of New South Wales

"We think the art and music truly arrive in the special presentation of Matisse's Chapel of the Rosary in Vence," says Francesca Ford. "In this installation, the audio experience draws on similarities between Matisse’s late cut-outs and [Laetitia] Sadier's cut-up indie pop stylings meld, singing and glowing together, and ultimately uplifting the experience for exhibition visitors who look and listen."

AGNSW Matisse Life & Spirit exhibition images
© Succession H. Matisse/Copyright Agency, 2022

Learn More
A young man looks up at an image of chapel while sitting and listening to the Matisse: Life and Spirit audio guide

Solution

The experience is available on iOS and Android and is powered by our location-aware technology, which allows content to seamlessly update as visitors explore the space at their own pace.

As well as the curatorial insights, visitors hear an inspiring score commissioned by the Gallery's Curator of Music and Community, Jonathan Wilson.

Narration is in English, French, and Mandarin, and accessibility is further enhanced through easy-to-read transcripts, volume control and choice over sound elements.

A young man wearing headphones sits and listens to music from the Matisse: Life and Spirit audio guide, with a painting by Matisse in the background.