There is absolutely no doubt in my mind, that the "Inside Magritte" Exhibition hosted by Milan's Fabbrica del Vapore, is in line with a trend which has echoes in retail, restaurants and many other sectors. In this age of emotional fusion between soul searching and the self promotion via Instagram in particular, the way to the consumer's heart is to provide a unique experience which can not only be experienced, but can be relayed as an extension of our own being.
The quote above translated means "For me art consists of painting enchantment and pleasure" and the organisers of this exhibition, managed to capture the essence of both, with an experiential tour through the life, the influences and the work, of one of the greatest innovators in modern art, René Magritte.
If seeing a painting up-close remains an irreplaceable experience, Magritte actually considered the painted image to be of more importance than either the technique used, or the manner embodied in that painting. He also stated that seeing a copy of a painting on a postcard was enough to truly appreciate it, and that visiting museums bored him!
For this exhibition, the Curators have taken licence to recreate an experience which entertains, informs and immerses you in the world of the artist. You are greeted by a trademark giant bowler hat, set in the darkened context of a presumably Belgian landscape. You move through a part of the exhibition which unveils the historic period in which the artist was working, his influence and place in the the History of Art. Retromodernism certainly comes to mind, with Magritte's experimentation and inclusion of different elements from different schools such as Classical sculpture, Cubism, Mannerism and the figurative style of the Neoclassicists.
The visitor finally arrives in a vast chamber in which 36 Canon projectors filled every inch of the space with a kaleidoscope of superbly orchestrated images, accompanied by an equally well selected sound-track. I saw young and old together, soaking up the fabulous art as multi-sensory event, rather than a tedious trudge down the corridors of a museum. This is an approach, that is without doubt at the heart of a revolution taking place in retail at the moment.
The now former Senior Vice President of Apple, Angela Ahrendts began a mission during her tenure as CEO of Burberry, to transform the face of retail, making it a relevant experience for the generation of digital native which formed the brand's customer base. The commitment among other things to courses, workshops, the Genius Bar, and having super smart, friendly young store staff, engaged people directly on a very personal and emotional level, giving those digital natives something they actually longed for: human contact. This was in fact a continuation of the philosophy promoted by Steve Jobs to his staff: "Your job is not to sell to people, you job is to enrich their lives through the lens of education."
Though great product, an engaging experience and brilliant architecture, Apple have embedded themselves in hearts of their millions of fans and users. The strategy of Jobs has paid off, and has it's followers in other sectors. Ahrendts shows great admiration for what CitizenM and Soho House have created: "They have filled this huge niche, a combination of experience and human connection".
In their own way, the organisers of the Magritte show, have repeated that very neat trick, creating an experience which inspires and educates at the same time, literally soaking the visitor in the spirit of the artists.