Vermeer's The Concert

Vermeer's The Concert

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Stolen Art Watch, Gardner Art Heist, Absent Friends !!!


High Brow Reminder of Gaping Hole Left by Gardner Art Heist
http://www.tauntongazette.com/arts/x1886100331/Gardner-installation-evokes-memories-of-unsolved-art-theft

BOSTON — .After midnight on March 18, 1990, two crooks disguised as cops bluffed their way into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, handcuffed security guards and went to the Dutch Room where they ripped a masterpiece by Vermeer, two by Rembrandt and another by Govaert Flinck from their frames.

Entering that second floor room 17 years later, artist-in-residence Su-Mei Tse saw the still empty frames and sensed "the power of absence."

From that encounter, the Luxembourg-based artist created "Floating Memories," an installation that, like the crime that spawned it, is both intriguing and elusive.

Entering the museum's first-floor gallery, visitors to her multimedia installation will see a slightly raised wooden platform with designs etched into two sides and partially covered by a sumptuous gold silk rug from China.

Making the installation, Tse collaborated with Jean-Lou Majerus who built the platform. Facing the platform, a rectangular screen hangs from a wall at the darkest end of the gallery. Taking up most of the screen, the videotaped image of a record revolves in an endless loop.

Except for a few visitors, the only sound is quiet crackling static as the record wobbles slightly around an unseen spindle.

"Is that it?" a woman asked a male companion.

After they left, a student snuck a photo and wondered aloud, "What more does she want?"

An older couple came in and watched for a few minutes. The man told the woman the image of the spinning record "puts me to sleep." As they were leaving, the woman paused at the gallery's edge and looked again.

Like the theft of 13 priceless works of art, Tse's installation leaves people guessing.

Since art is generally in the eye of the beholder, that's fine.

For one man, a wooden cross suggests the deepest mysteries of faith. For another, it's just two wooden sticks.

The Gardner's Public Relations Director Katherine Armstrong said the peacock pattern embossed into two sides of the platform replicates the designs of the wallpaper in the Dutch Room.

"The platform evokes the empty frames," she said. "The entire work is about loss and memory."

The empty frames are still displayed in the Dutch Room because Gardner's will requires her collection be maintained unchanged.

Tse said she "doesn't want to be too precise" explaining her work. But she said the empty frames "left me with strong feelings."

"For me, those empty frames were like abstract paintings," she said in a recent telephone interview from Luxembourg. "I wanted to explore a certain memory. Maybe there would be a possibility to express an idea, to be more than a visitor."

Tse said the spinning record recalled her earliest childhood memory in her parents' home, which is why the image was filmed from a child's perspective.

"For me, the image of the record is like a landscape looking to the past," she said. "Memory has to do with the power of art when it works over time."

A classically trained cellist, Tse burst onto the international arts scene in 2003 when she won a Golden Lion award for Best National Participation at the 50th Venice Biennale for her first show, "Air Conditioned."

Visitors to the installation might reasonably ask whether they're expected to know all the subtle references to Gardner's collection and the 1990 robbery to appreciate an installation that initially appears willfully enigmatic.

Are they expected to know the pattern carved into the platform resembles the 17th century Italian silk damask that covered the Dutch Room walls in 1990?

Should they be expected to enjoy plumbing Tse's memories? Shouldn't an artist make them feel something?

On the other hand, for nearly 20 years detectives have sifted through all the evidence, testimony and rumors and still haven't solved the crime.

Describing the installation, the Gardner's curator of contemporary art, Pieranna Cavalchini, said, "'Floating Memories' are distant memories that suddenly bubble up to the surface of consciousness, only to recede again. But they are never quite forgotten."

"Su-Mei Tse's installation resonated within the Gardner's collection, particularly in the Dutch Room, where time has come to a complete standstill, while a sense of absence, distant memory and longing fades in and out of every empty frame," she said.

Could Cavalchini be suggesting special kinds of art like unsolved crimes create mysteries that resist deciphering?

After all, the crooks who visited the Dutch Room 19 years ago didn't expect to be caught. Why should Su-Mei Tse?

THE ESSENTIALS:

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is at 280 The Fenway, Boston. It is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.

Admission: $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, and $5 for college students with current ID. A $2 discount is offered to adults and seniors when visiting both the Gardner and the Museum of Fine Arts within two days. Admission is free for museum members, children under 18 and everyone named Isabella.

"Floating Memories" runs through Oct. 18.

On Thursday, Sept. 17, a Gallery Talk will be held from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Gallery talks are free with Gardner After Hours admission.

On Thursday, Sept. 24, at 6:30 p.m., a catalog signing and conversation with Su-Mei Tse and Pieranna Cavalchini will take place followed by a wine reception; $10 general public, $5 members and seniors, free for students.

For more information, call 617-566-1401 or visit http://www.gardnermuseum.org/.

Art Hostage Comments:

It would be easy to dismiss this as an elitist, high brow pastiche.

However, I really think the whole point is to keep the flame burning for the return of the stolen Gardner art.

The sheer magnitude of the Gardner Art Heist means any artistic reflection is welcome and the lack of direct clarity is what makes this installation a wonderful, provocative reminder of the emptiness left by the tragic loss of the Vermeer and Rembrandt's Storm to the world.
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For this and other reasons Art Hostage applauds the Gardner Museum.

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