Metro, Arts

Gardner Museum Introduces New Contemporary Art Series

For the first time ever, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is presenting a new series called Stir, which features a blend of contemporary art, music, and performances. The series, which launched on Feb. 6, gives visitors to the Gardner Museum the opportunity to explore the experimental, modern events and exhibits that will be featured on the first Thursday of every month in the Museum’s new Calderwood Hall.

The difference between Stir and the series it is replacing, Avant Gardner, is that, while some of the performance artists are not new to the Museum, the work they present in the series always will be. Stir launched with a performance of a piece by composer Lee Hyla that was specially commissioned by the Callithumpian Consort. The group, which is led by the New England Conservatory’s Stephen Drury, regularly performs at the Gardner, but its performance of Hyla’s piece had never been heard before its showcase in Stir.

Pieranna Cavalchini, curator of Contemporary Art at the Gardner and co-creator of the series with curator of music Scott Nickrenz, describes Stir as “a mixture and collaboration of the music and contemporary departments,” which she hopes will provoke a new understanding and exploration of the blend between musical expression, visual art, and the spoken word. Since it is the first year that Stir will be presented, the nature of the series is largely experimental and relies heavily on the willingness of both the artists and visitors to explore new ideas.

Cavalchini explained that the idea is to engage the audience and allow new ideas to stretch the viewers’ minds, as many of the concepts presented likely will be foreign to the average audience.

The Calderwood Hall, which will house all of the events offered within Stir, is new to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and will play an integral part in the presentation of all of the performances. Renzo Piano and Yasuhisa Toyota designed the hall, which serves as the replacement for the old concert hall, the Tapestry Gallery. Piano and Toyota designed the hall with the intention of giving each audience member-located in three levels of balconies above the performers, who sit on the ground level-a uniform audio experience.

One of the main reasons Stir was developed, according to Cavalchini, was the anticipation of this new hall and the potential it possesses to harness new and different performances. “For the past couple of years, we have been thinking about making work that would resonate in the new space, the different space, with new visual language,” she said.

In March, digital art trio OpenEndedGroup, a veteran group at the Gardner, will premiere a 3D film it created during its 2012 residency at the Gardner that was specifically created to be shown in the Calderwood Hall. The film, called Saccades, is comprised of a series of thousands of images. It is designed to emulate the experience of moving through the museum in a different way than a person typically might by showing the way the mind makes associations. OpenEndedGroup, which worked with a friend to make the film, created a special algorithm designed to sequence the various images in a way that maximizes the use of visual space and the viewer’s experience.

The following month, Stir will feature the performance of poet Susan Howe accompanied by musician and composer David Grubbs, who combine poetry and soundscapes to create sound-works. Their performance, entitled WoodSlipperCounterClatter, will feature previously unpublished text collages by Howe and field recordings made by Grubbs in the Gardner Museum in 2012. On April 17, Stir will also feature a performance by toy pianist Phyllis Chen, called A Far Cry.

While the series is still new, the creators are optimistic about its potential to contribute to the Boston arts community. They believe it will attract a different kind of crowd than those who enjoy more classical arts and music and hope that it will encourage a broader exploration of all elements of contemporary art.

Cavalchini called the series “inspiring” and is enthusiastic about its potential to give artists the opportunity to workshop and play with new ideas. “It’s a small program,” Calvalchini said. “but the [Calderwood] space allows for the possibility to grow.”


February 19, 2014