Through January 20, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum of Boston is featuring “In the Company of Artists: 25 Years of Artists-in-Residence,” an exhibition celebrating the museum’s legacy of inviting artists to live at the museum, explore the collection, and create new works inspired by their experience.
The exhibition features work from dynamic artists-in-residence including Sophie Calle, Bharti Kher, Luisa Lambri, Laura Owens, Rachel Perry (a local artist from Gloucester), Dayanita Singh, and Su-Mei Tse. In selecting the seven women artists for the exhibition, the museum recognizes and furthers the legacy of its founder — a woman with a bold creative spirit, who championed the artists of her own time.
“[The exhibition] reminds us that Isabella’s tradition of inviting artists to experience the collection and beauty of the museum lives on here every day,” said Pieranna Cavalchini, curator of contemporary art. “We call it the gift of time: time to draw, write, and imagine new work. Artists who live on the property have a unique perspective on the museum and are given special access to the collection and inner workings of the institution. Bringing different minds from many cultures and using the museum — what many have called Isabella’s total work of art — as a building block for new thinking and creative engagement is a unique part of the Gardner legacy.”
Many of the artists in the exhibition drew inspiration from the Gardner itself — its collections, environment and history. Laura Owens’s watercolor and pencil work reinterprets a 17th-century Spanish embroidery from the Raphael Room; Sophie Calle’s “What Do You See?” are two works from a series responding to the infamous 1990 Gardner Museum theft; and Rachel Perry’s “Halos” is inspired by the museum’s abundance of religious paintings and sculptures. Other artists have been re-energized by their time at the museum. Their residencies and the immersive environment of the museum led to creative renewal for Bharti Kher, Luisa Lambri, Dayanita Singh, and Su-Mei Tse.
The Gardner is one of the only museums in the world to welcome artists to live and work on site — usually for about a month in a specially designed apartment in the museum — to experience the collection in personal, intimate ways. Since its inception, the Gardner Museum has been a haven for artists of all disciplines. In her time, Isabella Stewart Gardner nurtured and supported many creative minds — inviting them to activate the galleries through their work, ranging from painting to performances of music and dance, to literary readings. John Singer Sargent is considered the museum’s first artist-in-residence, since Isabella Stewart Gardner invited him to live at the museum and use the Gothic Room as his studio in 1903. In 1992, the museum’s then-director, Anne Hawley, started the artist-in-residence program as a way to connect more directly with artists and re-energize the museum with the founder’s creative spirit.
In addition to the exhibition on display in Hostetter Gallery, other artists-in-residence will activate spaces throughout the museum and the historic palace, with participatory artworks and performances including Sonic Blossom (2013–present) by Lee Mingwei, live portrait drawing with Charmaine Wheatley, and storytelling with Gcina Mhlophe. In its entirety, “In the Company of Artists” and its supporting elements and programming will reintroduce to visitors all the ways the museum works with the creative community — both local and international — across all stages of their careers.