Extra Credit: Isabella Gardner Museum

Earlier in the semester I was visiting a friend in Boston and we went to the Isabella Gardener museum. It is a really interesting place because it is located in a house, rather than the traditionally white walled museum where each piece has its own space. Isabella Gardner was a prominent patron of the arts and she collected hundreds of works such as paintings, drawings, and statues. She even had architectural pieces from other buildings incorporated into her home and often mixed art from several different cultures together. After her death, the home was turned into a museum and in accordance with her will, nothing in the house was significantly altered.

The building included three floors that went around an indoor garden at the center of the house. It was interesting to take note of where she decided to put the specific pieces and to think about why she placed certain items in specific places. When touring the museum I was mostly thinking about framing devices and how the museum setting alters the way the viewer perceives not only the art but also its significance. There were many large paintings centered predominantly in the rooms but they were from little known artists. In the same room there might also be a small painting by a famous artist. There were cards with information that pointed out the more famous paintings and I found it interesting that these works would have gone unnoticed without information to elaborate on them. Many of the works did not have information about the artist and the viewer was left to guess about them. It was a completely different experience to not know whom the work was by or where it was from. In a sense it was much more about the actual experience of looking at the piece for appreciation and aesthetics rather than bringing a background or preconception into the initial viewing.

It was actually refreshing and I enjoyed the really personal aspect of the museum. The decorations and placement of the pieces were all the work of one person and they were about her own personal preference. The role of the curator was something I really took note of. This was such a contrast to the traditional museum setting that it really made me think about how curatorial choices influence the viewing experience. Decisions such as spaces between pieces, where they are placed on the wall, framed or unframed, and the information available to the viewer all shape the way it is perceived. I like that there are so many ways art can be viewed and the dynamic between art and the art space is such an interesting concept.

2 Responses

  1. I love that you went to a museum not around school, and are sharing it with everyone. This particular one sounds really neat! I particularly like the idea of an indoor garden. You get the beauty of the outdoors without all the nasty bugs. Thats crazy to think that there were three stories that all comprised of her works! I kind of like that idea in a way, but at the same time I like to have other works under the same roof by other artists as a way to compare and contrast. I definitely agree with you that the way art is presented in its surrounding environment plays a major role in the piece itself!

    • Thanks for the comment! Maybe I didn’t give a really good explanation of the museum, but it actually was all art from other artists. Isabella Gardner wasn’t an artist herself but she spent her life traveling the world and collecting art. That is what made the museum really cool because it was art from all over the world side by side in a huge house. It is a really cool place and you should check it out if you get the chance!

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