Coming Soon

Common Threads

Weaving Stories Across Time

October 4, 2018 - January 13, 2019
Hostetter Gallery

About the Exhibition

Common Threads, Weaving Stories Across Time features the work of contemporary artists, many of whom have been Artists-in-Residence at the Gardner. These artists are redefining textile art through mediums including music, video, and participatory art.Taking its cue from Isabella Stewart Gardner’s own magnificent collection of historic and contemporary textiles, this exhibition explores the ways in which the art of the past continues to inspire artists now. Textiles have been a vehicle for exploring political and personal narratives over the centuries, and in the hands of a select group of boundary-pushing artists today, they invite one to consider anew the stories we tell ourselves, collectively and individually.

The Museum’s magnificent set of sixteenth-century Flemish tapestries depicting scenes from the life of the Cyrus the Great, an ancient Persian ruler, provide the stage for a new opera by renowned composer David Lang, with a libretto by the playwright Sibyl Kempson. This new work—truepearl, an opera in five tapestries—was made specifically to be heard in the Museum’s Tapestry Room, the site of numerous musical performances in Isabella’s lifetime. The opera is not meant to be performed live, but is recorded and will be available on special headsets in the room, so that visitors can listen individually as they move from tapestry to tapestry, and from scene to scene.

This kind of highly personal and immersive encounter with textiles extends across the Museum, and into the Hostetter Gallery in the New Wing, where a group of artists working across media—including El Anatsui, William Kentridge, Lee Mingwei, The Raqs Media Collective, Elaine Reichek, Standard Incomparable (a collective project spearheaded by artist Helen Mirra), and Nevet Yitzhak will be featured. New weavings and tapestries explore the historic medium’s enduring appeal, and also highlight the relationship between production and the human body. Other works, “woven” together digitally, or featuring unexpected materials, boldly challenge conventional assumptions and suggest a new, more expansive approach to telling stories through tapestries and textiles.

The story told in these works begins with King Astyages Commands Harpagos to Take the Infant Cyrus and Slay Him, and proceeds with the tapestries to the right.

The Mending Project

As part of this exhibition, we invite you to bring an article of clothing for mending as part of The Mending Project, an interactive installation by artist Lee Mingwei.

By sitting with the mender for a period of time as they work on your garment, you will be able to connect both the practice of mending and the meaningful connections that can be made over this artistic medium.

If you are interested in becoming a mender during the course of the exhibition, we need volunteers! Please contact for more details.

Lee Mingwei, The Mending Project.
Lee Mingwei, The Mending Project.

Exhibition-Inspired Programming

Member Preview Day: Common Threads

Members and patrons see it first! Preview the exhibition Common Threads the day before it opens to the general public.

Concert Preview Performance

true pearl: An Opera, in Five Tapestries

Seize the opportunity to hear the first (and only) live performance of the complete score of true pearl, the first opera commissioned by the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

Member Opening Reception: Common Threads: Weaving Stories Across Time

Join us for an evening celebration of Common Threads: Weaving Stories Across Time with your fellow members.

Common Threads is supported in part by Amy and David Abrams, The Coby Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Barr Foundation ArtsAmplified Initiative, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Museum receives operating support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which receives support from the State of Massachusetts and the National Endowment for the Arts. 

Media Sponsor: WBUR