Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston
Through March 3
Sophie Calle is offering a kind of art therapy for Boston aesthetes still haunted by one of the most infamous art thefts in history, said Leah Triplett in BigRedandShiny.com. On March 18, 1990, burglars broke into the city’s Gardner Museum and stole 13 works, including priceless paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Manet. Calle, a French conceptual artist who at the time had a solo exhibition in one of the Gardner’s galleries, has since devised a unique way to memorialize the loss. In 1991, she gathered descriptions of each of the purloined works from museum staffers, then juxtaposed text excerpts with a photograph of the space where each painting once hung. More recently, she’s transcribed musings on the theft by employees and visitors, pairing that text with photographs of the speakers, backs turned, standing in front of the empty frames that the paintings were cut from.
“The idea is deceptively simple,” yet it creates something new out of loss, said Mark Feeney in The Boston Globe. The photographs themselves are “quite beautiful—“almost chaste in their straightforwardness”—and many of the interviewees’ observations prove to be “acute, memorable, or both.” Describing the three figures depicted in Vermeer’s The Concert, one observer said, “I could hear them singing, but it seemed very private, quiet, and pure. You felt like an intruder and you wouldn’t want them to know you were watching.” Another says of the empty frames, which have hung in the museum since 1995, “What you see is yourself.” Several months ago, the FBI revealed that it had finally identified the thieves, though no further information has followed regarding the missing paintings. Calle has created a chorus of memory. “In a small but not-insignificant way,” she’s answered art’s loss with a triumph.