Rebecca Long is an associate curator at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.  That’s where she has curated, “Matisse, Life In Color: Masterworks from the Baltimore Museum of Art.” I chatted with Rebecca about what makes Matisse contemporary and what keeps him relevant …

MICHAEL: Hi Rebecca! First of all, you're a seasoned curator obviously. Do you still get excited about the types of shows you work on? I mean, with this Matisse exhibition at IMA, you're closer to his actual work than anybody. What does this kind of show mean for you personally?

REBECCA: Yes, I get very excited for every show I work on, primarily because they’re all different. This is the first show I’ve worked on that focuses on modern art and also the first that concentrates on just one artist. For me, it was an incredible opportunity to dive extremely deeply into his work and really get to know him. Matisse turned out to be a much more complex artist than my earlier understanding of him and I think we’ve managed to bring out some of the interesting sides to his complex artistic persona in this exhibition.

MICHAEL: This Matisse collection is from Baltimore, of course. When displaying a traveling collection, what are the considerations involved in presenting it for the receiving audience? I mean, Matisse is Matisse. Are there nuances with regard to the types of audiences seeing the show? Is exhibition space an issue or is it ultimately about how different curators interpret the artists ... and therefore the show varies in city to city that way?

REBECCA: Yes, geography definitely matters when presenting a collection like this. In Baltimore, the Cone Collection is displayed in a wing of the museum that was built specifically for the collection - in a similar manner to the Clowes pavilion here at the IMA.  The context in which the art is presented also shifts. We thought for instance that our audience in Indianapolis would be more interested in a presentation of the Matisse works from the Cone Collection that focused more closely on the works themselves than on the relationship between the Cone sisters and Matisse - which might be of greater interest to the local audience in Baltimore.

MICHAEL: Apart from the fact that he's a deceased, famous artist who can pack in huge crowds, what do you think makes Matisse contemporary and relevant today?

REBECCA: I think that Matisse remains relevant today because the questions that he was asking as an artist are universal. The results of his explorations of color and line varied greatly across the long course of his career and the variety of his work and the sheer originality and commitment to the creative impulse that he displayed will always be relevant and inspirational.

MICHAEL: Finally Rebecca, So many people have no real relationship with art. Why should they even consider Matisse? What's the point of art anyway?

REBECCA: I will let Matisse himself address that. He once claimed that, “The characteristic of modern art is to participate in our life. A painting in an interior spreads joy around it by the colors, which calm us. The colors obviously are not assembled haphazardly, but in an expressive way. A painting on a wall should be like a bouquet of flowers in an interior. These flowers are an expression, tender or lively. Or, the pleasure simply comes to us from a yellow or red surface, which accounts from the more tender expression of the flowers, like roses, violets, daisies, compared with the bright and purely decorative orange of marigolds.”

MICHAEL: That’s why he’s Matisse.  Thanks Rebecca.

Matisse: Life In Color is showing at the Indianapolis Museum of Art from October 13, 2013 to January 12, 2014.