To step into the Gardner Museum’s Courtyard is to be transported from Boston to a seemingly faraway and magical place. Where did Isabella Stewart Gardner find the inspiration to create this unusual space at the center of her museum? For reasons now lost to the historical record, Gardner was opaque about her curatorial strategies. She destroyed much of her personal correspondence, erasing evidence of her motivations. She did, however, leave us one exceptional archive: her travel albums.
Between 1867 and 1895, Gardner and her husband Jack traveled the world. They took their first trip in the wake of the 1865 death of their only child Jackie, who passed away just before his second birthday. Gardner found solace in her months-long journeys. She gathered small souvenirs and recorded her impressions of places she visited in collaged albums. Though she did not purchase major works of art on her trips, she would later acquire objects from the many places she had visited and install them in a layered, evocative display that recalls her albums.
A contemporary look at the albums also provides a tool for considering the ways in which the couple’s trips—and their perceptions of foreign cultures, many under European imperial rule—were facilitated by their status as wealthy white Americans. . A team of local academics and artists lend their interpretations of the albums to help us understand the marginalized histories and perspectives that are often hidden from view. Whose stories are missing from these pages?
This show and its companion exhibition, Betye Saar: Heart of a Wanderer, invite us to think critically about the complexities of travel. How does it impact travelers themselves? How does it change the places they visit? And, in the case of Saar and Gardner, how did travel help shape what these women created back home?
This exhibition features contributions by the following:
- Alexander Brey, Assistant Professor of Islamic Art & Architecture, Wellesley College
- Erin Genia, an enrolled member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, Artist
- Stephanie Tung, Byrne Family Curator of Photography, Peabody Essex Museum
- Siddhartha V. Shah, Director, Mead Museum of Art, Amherst College
- johnette marie, Artist