Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938

The exhibition site created in conjunction with the Magritte exhibition contains a selection of all the works that are in the physical exhibition. From this group the curators identified six pieces to build featured stories around. The user can travel horizontally on a path through these six main pieces. Each has its own unique musical theme and color palette, with Magritte quotes related to the specific work read aloud as you transition into its detail page. This featured path establishes the overall mood and themes of the site. Then the rest of the works live in a gridded section ‘above’ the featured line that is chronologically sorted. It starts in 1926, when Magritte’s innovative period of work began, and ends in 1938.

There are multiple options for navigation — buttons on the site, keyboard arrows and swipes on the iPad. There is also sound panning built into the experience. Depending on where the user moves their mouse, the site sountrack will ‘shift’ to match the position. So when the mouse is on the right hand side of the site, the music shifts to the ‘right’ speaker, or right ear, if the user is using headphones. It then pans to the left when the user moves the pointer left.

Everything on the site — the font and layout choices, the colors, the music, animations and voiceover — is inspired by the period in which Magritte was painting and creating. We wanted to set a ‘mood’ and these features all help create this avant-garde, ‘surreal’ digital space. The exhibit focuses on a very short, very important period of Magritte’s development, it’s when he really ‘becomes Magritte.’ So the goal of the design was to pay tribute to that, and to Magritte’s overall contribution to the Surrealistic movement.

The other very important elements are the integrated conservation materials. X-rays, Infrared imagery and video all give insight into Magritte’s process and painting technique. Users can see the underdrawings beneath a famous portrait, or the paint color along an exposed canvas edge. By integrating these materials into the site experience, the average user can really learn how these works were created. Which is a story that can’t be told by simply looking at the final, framed piece of art. It also allows us to show a larger, more general audience the kind of work that conservators do in preparation for an exhibition of this size.