David Wilson

Artist-in-Residence

David Wilson spent his 2009 residency at the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum reading, writing, and looking through archival materials such as Isabella’s guest books, music programs, and correspondence. Mornings were spent photographing with a 3-D digital camera and 3-D video camera. An evening flashlight tour offered a different perspective on the collection and the gallery spaces. Wilson’s time at the Gardner influenced the development of his own museum, the Museum of Jurassic Technology (MJT), a cross between a natural history museum and an artist installation, displaying a mixture of artistic and scientific exhibits that may or may not be factual. The museum also has a Russian Tea Room and movie theater. Though separated by a century and 3000 miles, the two museums share many essential elements. In each, music and performance play an integral role, individual interpretation is encouraged, and there is a uniquely intimate atmosphere. Inspired by the Gardner, Wilson created a courtyard space at MJT complete with lush plants, sculpture, birds, and a central fountain.

Wilson returned to the Gardner Museum for screenings of two of his films. These were The Great Soviet Eclipse with live and recorded narration by Wilson and musical accompaniment by Æ (the duo Aurelia Lucy Shrenker and Eva Salina Primack), and The Book of Wisdom and Lies, with live and recorded narration by Wilson, and musical accompaniment by Merima Ključo and Eva Salina Primack. A third film, Language of the Birds, also had its premiere at the Gardner. Wilson later spoke with contemporary curator Pieranna Cavalchini about the MJT and why music and film were such strong components of his museum. During each visit, Wilson continued to film with the assistance of Moritz Fehr who later came to the Gardner as an Artist-in-Residence.

In September, 2017, Wilson premiered his latest 3-D film at the Gardner, Duerme Mi Niña, or Mother Don't Make Me Cry, which explores the idea of love tempered by loss, and takes as the starting point Isabella Stewart Gardner and the death of her young son Jack. The live 17th century Catalan songs that accompanied the screening were performed by Shirley Hunt (viola da gamba), Argenta Walthe (vocals), and Paul Holmes Morton (baroque guitar), with live narration by David Wilson.

David Wilson (b. 1946 USA) started making 16mm films while attending Kalamazoo College in Michigan, majored in urban entomology with a minor in art, and went on to earn an MFA in Experimental Animation from CalArts in 1976. His films from the 1970s and 80s explore the act of perception and the qualities inherent in the medium of film, often using the optical printer as a creative tool. He has produced commercials, special effects, industrial films, and trailers. In 1977 Wilson co-founded, with a group of Los Angeles area filmmakers, Independent Film Oasis, a screening series for avant-garde film. In 1984, he created the first incarnation of the Museum of Jurassic Technology, which was a traveling collection for galleries, community centers, and museums. In 1988 MJT found its first permanent home in Culver City, California. Six years later, Wilson opened a German branch — the tochter (“daughter”) museum at the Karl Ernst Osthaus Museum in Hagen, Westphalia. The museum was the subject of a 1995 book, “Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder,” by Lawrence Weschler.

David Wilson was awarded a MacArthur Foundation genius grant in 2001. He has produced six independent films, most recently under the auspices of MJT with Kabinet, an arts and science-based cultural institution located in St. Petersburg, Russia. He lives and works in Los Angeles.

David Wilson looking at one of Isabella Stewart Gardner’s music programs from a performance at her house, Green Hill, 2010.
David Wilson looking at one of Isabella Stewart Gardner’s music programs from a performance at her house, Green Hill, 2010.