Pierre Bonnard exhibition - NGV: Part 2: India Mahdavi: Set designer

Yesterday we looked at some of the paintings at the Pierre Bonnard exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria (the NGV) in 2023. But just as fascinating as Pierre’s paintings, lithographs and photos was the setting for the exhibition, designed by India Mahdavi, who is a French architect and designer. She is well known for her use of colour, form and texture and has used these principles to create stunning spaces in museums, commercial buildings and private homes alike.

The exhibition was curated jointly with the Musee D’Orsay in Paris, which has the largest collection of Bonnard paintings in the world. Co-incidentally, India’s office is just down the road from the Musee D’Orsay, so she was close to the source in designing her preferred backdrop for the exhibition!! How wonderful was that!

The following biography about India was provided at the start of the NGV exhibition.....

The bio for India Mahdavi at the NGV exhibition. Credit: Julie's photo.

In this exhibition, India uses the concepts of space and colour to create an absolute synergy with Bonnard’s paintings, which are also well known for their freshness, light and colour.

In fact, the there was as much to look at and absorb in India’s design of the “rooms” displaying his works as there was in the works themselves!

Here are some of Anne’s photos which will give you an idea of the setting:

In the following 2 minute video the curators of the exhibition, and India herself, describe the settings and what she was trying to achieve:

What do you think? Do you think the setting works as a background for Bonnard’s work? Both Anne and Julie, who both went to exhibition, agree that it does!

But amazingly, we were both sceptical about it until we actually saw it. Julie thought that the bright colour and flowery design would clash garishly with the paintings and thus reduce their impact. Anne had a similar concern in that she thought viewers would become so engrossed in the settings that they would miss learning about, and appreciating, the Bonnard paintings.

But we both agreed that it worked exceptionally well! The choice of wallpapers, (some flowery, some striped and some just plain walls), as well as the placement of chairs, tables and couches all added to the concept of homely rooms to sit in and absorb the artworks and the space itself. And in each room, there were “windows” looking through to the next or previous room. This added to the depth of three dimensions, and also, despite the number of people passing through, the feeling of a vast, restful space, with no crowding. It gave people the ability to move about freely, to just sit for a while and contemplate, or to be up close and personal to the artworks.

We both agreed that it was a tribute to the creativity of India herself and the appeal of the light and colour of Bonnard’s artworks, for which he is so well known..........

We will leave you with the following 2 minute video of Julie and Anne’s photos of the exhibition space. We hope you like it.


With thanks to The National Gallery of Victoria, (the NGV), and India Mahdavi.