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webpick of the week

Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary

Museum, Public Service

Usually, the goal of a special website built around a museum exhibition is simply to bring people to the museum. But this site, created by Hello Monday for MoMA's new Magritte exhibit, was built to bring the museum to the people. It’s a reversal that fits perfectly with the avant-garde nature of the exhibit, which focuses on a very short, very important period of Magritte’s development, the phase when he really became Magritte as we know him. Everything on the site—the font and layout choices, the colors, the music, animation and voiceover—is inspired by the years from 1926 to 1938. The result is an avant-garde digital space that recreates the mood of this crucial time in Magritte’s creative growth, when he first emerged as a strong influence in the Surrealist movement.

An undeniable benefit of seeing artwork in a museum is discovering contextual information provided by curators, the extra details that give a sense of how the artwork came to life. MoMA’s Magritte site brings this experience online as well by integrating conservation information—the x-rays, infrared imagery and video that have given curators insight into Magritte’s process and painting technique. Users can see the sketches hidden beneath a famous portrait, or a swath of paint along an exposed canvas edge that suggests an earlier version. Integrating these materials allows MoMA to pull back the curtain on the kind of work that conservators do in preparation for an exhibition of this size. Hello Monday even went a step further in replicating the gallery experience: There is sound panning built into the site. The soundtrack shifts with the movement of the mouse, so when the cursor is on the right-hand side of the site, the music shifts to the right speaker, or right ear, if you’re wearing headphones, and pans to the left when you move the cursor left. And unlike at the museum, there’s no risk that this soundtrack will include the person next to you talking on their cell phone.