Not enough there to be satisfying museum-going experience
Not enough there to be satisfying museum-going experience

The ISG in the best Boston museum to spend an afternoon wandering around on your own, or with a docent.  It’s golden and worldly and reeks of money and obsession and sensual beauty.

Beginning in October I noticed billboards on my routes–near the car wash in Somerville & over the Mass Pike in Boston– advertising “Sophie Calle:Last Seen” at the Gardner Museum. The billboards feature the back of a young women looking at an empty picture frame with brocade behind the gilded frame. Interesting image I thought. I wanted to know more. Yet: it all seemed  “un-Gardner” to me in the sense that the billboard image was a bit of a tease, not whole as in a completed thought or moment, and not outright beautiful  but rather pop  (Rauschenberg-ish graphic  & Warhol-esque celeb-like  sprinkled with a heavy hand of Renaissance ) in its careful presentation.

We went to the Gardner on a Sunday and the galleries where the Sophie Calle work hung were empty, despite there being  a line to get in and people everywhere else. My experience: the very large, gold-framed  “word posters” sucked all the energy out of the nearby equally-sized  gold-framed images of empty framed art. Rather disturbing when what we were craving was visual…and what was promised in the billboard was also visual.   Is this why we go to museum? To read?

Standing there in the gallery full of Sophie Calle’s Last Seen, having to read all those words (not a few) arranged in meaningful serif-font with diamond-shaped periods at end of sentences and then switch back to the large heavily brocaded visual to see what was missing ( since the artwork had been stolen and people-plus-the-artist were remembering what used to be) plus seeing my reflection in the glass that framed both the words and the photo images felt like an enforced duty: a task.

The museum literature writes: ” the exhibit is….a visual meditation on absence and memory, as well as reflection on the emotional power works of art hold on their viewers.”

On that note a  book, which is an intimate performing art where the artist-writer  interacts with one person,  would have worked much better for me. Plus I would be prepared and appreciative of the words.  The arrangement of artistic photographs of missing art and printed recollections would be less of a shout.

My recommendation is to be prepared for more reading than you want to do–not blurbs, not bites but word itches you can’t scroll away from unless you just refuse to read them– in a museum environment that usually supplies the beauty, artistic, sensual







Sophie Calle: Last Seen


Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston