Jean-Michel Othoniel


Jean-Michel Othoniel came to the Museum as an artist-in-residence in the summer of 2011. He spent this time working in the galleries, preparing for his exhibition, My Way, which was travelling from the Pompidou Center in Paris to the Samsung Museum of Art in Korea. He also did research for a fountain commission for the Bosquet du Theatre d’eau at the Chateau de Versailles outside of Paris. At the Boston Public Library he found a rare book on choregraphy published during the reign of Louis XIV and drew his inspiration from it to design the fountain. Othoniel took advantage of the empty galleries to photograph before the Museum opened, and to look at books in the collection including first editions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. He also spent time with an illuminated Choir Book (1601-1615) that was given to Isabella Stewart Gardner by her brother-in-law and that resides under her portrait in the Gothic Room. In the Museum’s Archives, Othoniel examined Isabella Stewart Gardner’s guest books and travel scrapbooks, and studied photographs of her garden areas, greenhouses, courtyard displays, and the conservatory at Green Hill. Othoniel also read Gardner’s personal collection of books on horticulture and visited the Honeywell Estate’s greenhouses and gardens in Wellesley with landscape researcher Anne Uppington.

He returned to the Gardner in 2015 for his exhibition Secret Flower Sculptures, that showcased bronze models and the watercolor sketches he made while at the Museum for the Versailles project, along with two new sculptures: Peony, the Knot of Shame (in glass) and La Rose des Vents (in gold aluminum). Othoniel also assembled his own personal tour of the Gardner Museum and created a book, The Secret Language of Flowers, in which he explored the meanings of flowers in the collection.

Jean-Michel Othoniel (b. 1964 France) is interested in metamorphoses, sublimations, and transmutations. His work takes on a variety of forms: drawings, sculptures, photographs, narratives, choreography, and video. He first gained recognition with a series of sculptures made of sulfur, exhibited at Documenta IX in 1992 in Kassel. The following year, he began to explore the properties of glass in his work.

Othoniel has been exhibited at the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; Samsung Museum of Art, Séoul; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint-Moritz; Lalit Kala Akademi, New Delhi; Brooklyn Museum, New York; Le Perrotin, Miami; Sikkema Jenkins & Co. New York; Alhambra, Granada; The Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice; the Villa Medici, Rome; the Musée du Louvre, Paris; Art Basel, and Documenta IX, Kassel. His work is in many collections including The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; New Orleans Museum of Art; Chanel Hong Kong/Los Angeles/Boston; and Fondation Cartier Pour l'Art Contemporain, Paris. In 2000, Othoniel designed the Kiosque des Noctambules (Kiosk of the Night-walkers) that adorns the entrance of the Palais Royal-Musée du Louvre Metro station. Othoniel currently lives and works in Paris.

He has received commissions for public sculptures including a fountain in the gardens of Versailles. In 2016, he created Living by Numbers, a monument to AIDS in Amsterdam, constructed a sculpture for the new pavilion of the Montreal’s Museum of Fine Arts, and staged a church treasure, The Trésor of the Angoulême Cathedral. In 2017, he presented La Grotta Azzurra, a mysterious cave made of cobalt blue glass bricks for the exhibition Jardins at the Grand Palais, Paris.